Unforgettable, Vol. 18: La Roux – La Roux


The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill painted a music scene reflective of urban culture on the brink of a new millennium; eleven years later we – as a culture and creative class – have evolved and devolved from that reality. We have since found our souls in the synthetic, and were given our new sonic aesthetic with an anthemic 2009 soundtrack of our virtual reality.

Enter La Roux. La Roux is music that reaches beyond sound, into the mood and mindset of an apathetically passionate generation. Literally, “La Roux” is founded upon adamant ambiguity, fusing the masculine “Le Roux” and the feminine “Le Rousse” to mean “The Red-Headed One.” “That One” would be none other than the Annie Lennox-esque frontwoman Elly Jackson. Jackson’s pale features beneath a fiery red coif depict brilliantly the sonic aesthetic of a colourless coloured culture.

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Unforgettable, Vol. 19: Britney Spears – Blackout

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2007 climaxed the greatest American tale since The Civil War, and Britney Spears’ Blackout was our living soundtrack. Just as Spears was our blue-eyed child of misfortune, Blackout is the requiem of our American Dream. Britney was an ideal created in our own image. Our image, our perception of our self worth, in the past decade was dependent upon fame and false status. Then, more than ever, our identities were aligned with iconographies: Britney was our Miss American Dream, and in 2007 we saw her strip away her white gown.

At our darkest hour, our brightest supernova wanted nothing more than to go that extra mile for us. We created a monster mistress, a pop iconography reflecting our wildest and greatest desires – embodying our most visceral conquests. She was the broken kingdom, and on behalf of her mortal peers she sacrificed herself for our entertainment. She was our gladiator; our samurai on a kamikaze mission to kill that very system which produced her. Even with her back against the wall she was our central focus; how something so perfect could be so not – and how such reckless power could destroy our most divine wind. We watched her spiral through insanity, as cameras flashed her dancing deliriously to music only she could hear. Even though we led her to this position of mania, she gave us permission to send her on a suicide mission: before the flashing lights, she was to touch the sky, and nosedive in a sacrificial spectacle fit for a fallen empire. She gave more when she had nothing to give – because we asked for it; because the same guys who told us that she was the most valuable dream, told her that her value relied on our affirmation – she Merrill Lynched our Pop selves. Her punishment was her penance, and as much hers as it is ours. The opening is the standing reminder that even after she fades, the irremovable, unstoppable, perpetuating danja remains.

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Unforgettable, Vol. 20: DJ Shadow – Endtroducing…


Joshua Paul Davis emerged from the blackout – heroically from the shadows – to redefine an art form, resurrect a genre, and reflect the essence of a culture with his debut album, Endtroducing. The 1996 release told the tale that in 2010 portrays modern hip-hop’s epic poem on record. DJ Shadow laid the foundation for hip-hop from the ground up, producing the first album entirely constructed from samples. As he creates the aural masterpiece, he allows the past to dictate the future – grabbing clips from vintage movie reels, and television shows, blending them with layered instrumentals from aged vinyl recordings – and in doing so introduces the world to his own sound, but more so the identity of an urban creative class on the cusp of social impact.

Davis begins the journey putting his best foot forward – fusing no less than seven separate soundbites and a fifteen second funk jam session – to take the veil off the silhouette and bring the DJ into the light. An unknown narrator echoes “producing…” over chilling piano scales, as the story begins and Joshua sets the stage from a single grain. In the midst of an industry cheapening musical quality in the face of quantity – rationing and rehashing masterful tracks of old like a 20th century European crusade through Africa – Shadow reminds us that there is an art to the sample; and for a genre founded upon the collage of collaboration, Davis crafts a montage original in its new fusion of old fragments.

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Unforgettable, Vol. 21: Lady GaGa – The Fame

Pop: grab your old girl with her new tricks, if this was GaGa’s first and last album it would be just as complete as it is in context as a dynasty starter.

The Fame is nothing more and nothing less than a perfect Pop debut through and through. Visceral, catchy, panoramic, reflective, progressive, chock full of hit singles, formidable filler, and fun; foreshadowing or foreboding depending on how you look at it – and yet, so very simple. The Fame is merely a skeleton, and the beats are nothing more than an atmosphere. In Britney’s wake we saw a sea change: where Spears’ story was plot-driven – a tale of a singer at the whim of heavy production, and a girl at the whim of a weighty world – GaGa’s voice is the fuel behind The Fame. She gives life to the beats, as much as she injected the joie de vivre back into Pop’s consciousness.

The sound is underground and mainstream, simultaneously past and present. “Just Dance” couldn’t be more straightforward as it rips the disco skeleton from the past, fleshes it out with simple synth layers, and slaps an electro-futuristic veneer on for 21st Century tech propulsion. The beat is a night out: airy synth, simple percussion, minimal layers, basic four-count – nothing crazy, nothing coercive, just dance music. The lyrics are universal: just dance, gonna be okay – and repete after moi. GaGa is “that girl” from the club. This is the first step of the journey through a tumultuously memorable relationship between lovers, the celebrity and the scene, the artist and the industry, the author and the audience. It all starts with “Just Dance.” You just dance to get to know their name, you just dance to get on Page Six, you just dance to get that record deal, you just dance for reassurance that it’s going to be okay – and this is The Fame.

Beyond that, at first listen, “Just Dance” is any other Pop track, a brilliantly choreographed debut. It couldn’t be more literal, and at a time where the world is a collective skeptic for good reason – the truthiness behind WMDs – that clear transparency was a trailblazing mindfreak in and of itself. Everything the track is not makes it everything it is. It is not new, it is not groundbreaking, it is not particularly deep or profound – and yet, coming from a world of life under-rug-swept it was that very transparency that broke America out of its shell. Just. Dance. No more, no less, no hidden agenda. Before auto-tune and vocoders, before ice and chains, there was lighthearted, carefree disco – the most basic, infinite, constant, life stream of music by method.

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Britney Jean, “… While Intelligence Becomes the Steal”

I’ve spent the past two years since Femme Fatale mastering the art and science of global media and communication with Britney as my canon. I don’t really need to prove anything, and apparently neither does she; because Britney Jean founds and finds itself in that, it breathes … I appreciate Britney Jean.

Holding the thread close to a dream, while intelligence becomes the steal
For what if gold, showed token sold, while manners abright and rightfully bold
Make a wish, a princess dream, unfold the map, a small lil bean
To vanish the air and trace out the new, so scared to love, so soon who knew
Beautiful voice creeps in my head, only one person person can wear this red
Traces behavior, young and small; I see land, I must fall

Britney Jean

Linger in the legacy… intelligence as the steal is Britney Jean – no, she is not GaGa, nor Madonna, nor is hers the aspired claim on their cerebral domain, that knowledge which detaches one from visceral humanity… that spark to light the first morning star. Yet, only one can wear the red, the Scarlet Letter Britney dons instead… And so seeing land, she must fall; that grounding rooting the human and iconic plight – from dust we came and to dust we return, no matter how high the peak flight.

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This is the record of someone who’s already been where you want her to stay, but that’s the point – you can’t evolve, and still return to that place unchanged. But you’ll never see it that way, because you’re not thee.

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Keep Calm and Kari On … with Chester French

Skin… is a many layered thing; it is artistic, it is cultural, it is biological, it rests on the fragile fringe of one’s inner and outer space… not to be melodramatic, but we consider it an overlooked focus – an abstract opus – of cultural connective tissue.

So, for Art Nouveau’s Skin issue, we chose a duo who connected all of those elements in a most masterful manner: Chester French – black tears, faced fears, a pair so open-minded about the lovable future that their well-endowed brains have descended upon every listener’s ears. We had a chat with Max and D.A. to get an inside look at how they view those elements that make the epidermis so oddly endearing.

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When we come into this world, our skin is supple and soft, that unhindered remnant of divine design. For artists like Chester French, the first album is of that same fresh design. The label signs you because of that new-new you bring to this world. Musicians wear that skin like a manifestation of the self. Unlike the child though, an artist can craft their own primary skin; now more than ever though, it is getting harder to make that sonic aesthetic a signature different than all others.

KE: How important is it to build your own sonic aesthetic through your music, and what do you think your skin is in the industry?

CF: I think – to answer the first part of the question – I think for us it’s kind of important to try and carve out what is our territory creatively in terms of what we want to make and how we want it to sound. I think there’s so much music and so many people in music feel like they have to constantly be following, either super-new trends or really established ideas about how music should sound at a given moment. For us it’s way more important to find a sound that’s unique to us, than it is to “fit in” to any group, necessarily…

KE: Basically, my thing is this: skin is functional and fashionable. It is the first line of defense, but musically it is that very foundation of artistic identity which requires the greatest defense of all.

It’s one thing to look good, a freshman feat that Love the Future achieved, but it’s another entirely to make that good look last: enter Music 4 TNGRS.

KE: What is a TNGR, and what is this music you’re making for them from this standpoint?

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Low-Fi Reverb: Tune in, Turn On, Tap Pop #getlifted