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#AwkwardMoments 9.12.12

Sunday Musings: ALT R'n'B; Did the Blues Need to Get Any Sweeter?

After a casual scroll through the preset playlists on Spotify, something that gives me a good chuckle with the way their labels are both visibly calculated and ironic at the same time. On this stroll I stopped at the Alternative R'n'B playlists. I thought, I love a smooth R'n'B jam and I like experimentation of many art forms, I'll try it. What I was expecting wasn't exactly what I got, however I wasn't soured too much in the progress.

I just recently finished listening to Clarence Clarity's premiere LP No Now and under some circumstances it can be accused of being 'Alternative R'n'B'. Since it was fresh in my mind it was one of the first two artists that came to mind. The other was FKA Twigs whom is also, to me at the least, a great example of an Alternative R'n'B artist. Where Clarence Clarity trades in emotional weight for feeble derivative exclamations (still give the album a listen, feeble can be fun), FKA Twigs emotes in
spades, and believably so (who can say 'Now hold the purse for me' and still get the guy at the end of the night). The emoting FKA Twigs practices is one of the important components of the Blues, as established by the amazing Bessie Smith. Of course there are other reasons why she came to mind: Vocally she harkens back to 90's smooth pop R'n'B singers, like Aaliyah, when she hangs in her mid register. Her songs also has instrumentations that are very ethereal and new age with a slight R'n'B tinge to it, the same way late 90's R'n'b tried to predict the future. I guess what I was hoping for was an interesting take on smooth 90's R'n'B, again it's not what I got.

I start to scroll down the playlist, there are some of the usual suspects: James Blake, SZA, and The Weeknd. Then there would be one song by Beyonce or Estelle that caught me as being as un-ALT, however they didn't stand out as much as Tinashe being on there. For the sake of the article I sat
through a enough of the songs to reach a conclusion: Alternative R'n'B was as popular and not as alternative as I thought it would be. A large majority of the tracks from Blood Orange's Chamakay, A modern moody take on mid-80's, Lionel Richie, R'n'B pop stylings, to Tinashe's Aquarius, a cipher of a song not only on the playlist but on her first LP titled the same; sported minimalist instrumentals, light as feather airy vocals, and a melody you can both sway and brood to. When I listened to the Beyonce song (for comparison sake) Superpower, I realized that 'Alternative R'n'B' is a sub-genre that is being aggressively tapped by many high profile artist yet ambiguously falling in line with the rest of the songs. In Superpower Beyonce's singing is higher than normal along with an apathetic Frank Ocean, a clean minimalist beat and few live instruments played as softly as possible.

I am a big fan of R'n'B. It is an interesting intersection where pop music compositions and dramatic emotive singing meets in nice quantities. When I see a chance to twist R'n'B and produce an odd but sensual song I get excited. There were a few surprises for example, Hiatus Kaiyote's, Nakamarra that features a singer, Naomi Saalfield, who actually sings out and contorts with the melody of a jazzy
R'n'B number that isn't earth shatteringly unique but, in the synth-lite landscape that is the playlist it's refreshing. And there is Jamie Woon's Lady Luck and Ella Eyre's Deeper both with unique pop sensibilities but seem, pleasantly, out of place on the playlist. The former has a competent singer providing an interesting moody atmosphere with his vocal performance, the latter song has a nice indie pop sound with an exceptional singer keeping control of the various elements. These exceptions weren't what I was expecting and it made the experience both great and terrible at the same time. It was great because in any 'Alternative' playlist I should have my expectations both matched and completely shattered at the same time, but bad for the general playlist because it made me realize that the playlist was a big, bland, airless, and (at times) un-emotive slog. R'n'B already contained heavy pop influences; Did it need to take a turn for the weightless, toothachingly, saccharine sweet?

At that moment I asked myself; Why dilute the major part of the Blues, and R'n'B in general? Of course this doesn't go for every song toting the 'Alternative R'n'B' label, and also 'different strokes for different folks', however why allow the drama and emotions of R'n'B go to waste? I can chalk it up to it being a new age and changing preferences but with many pop culture entertainment formats upping the ante; Why didn't the smooth pop R'n'B of the 90's/00's follow the times and increase the drama in the innately dramatic genre?

Post Work, No Groceries Playlist: General Civilized Monitored Turn Up

Every Friday comes with the satisfaction of leaving your place of work, school, obligation, and/or hostile takeover, and leaves us with hope that there is less responsibility for us to deal with (never the case). People do different things with their weekends. Every Friday I will be posting a playlist for certain situations or themes so everyone is accommodated and jamming appropriately. Since this is the first week we're going to keep it simple, we will be covering the nuanced notion of 'Turning Up'.

EDM Dadaism


Express Yourself- Diplo feat. Nicky Da B             Pop That- French Montana feat. Rick Ross, Drake, Lil Wayne

These songs are brazen with only the intent to drag everyone by the hair (that they got done the previous day) and act up. The beat attacks with very little relief. 'Pop That' uses repetition to spellbind the listener so they will never forget the song. The song has to do some heavy lifting for the guest rappers, although they settle right in with the sporadic nature of the song. 'Express Yourself' is texturally denser than 'Pop That' where Diplo works Nicky's voice into the song to make it a complementing instrument.

Throwing It Back

           Thong Song- SISQO
 Rock The Party- Benzino

Some old songs are able to resonate for years. Both songs have an infectious melody and a straight forward message about the simpler things in life. SISQO ably croons and belts in the proper spots about admiring the ladies. For a song being infamous for being innately silly it is a demonstration of how technically proficient SISQO is as a singer and how he could've had a long lasting R'n'B career. 'Rock The Party' doesn't show it's age until Benzino starts to drop his verses: They aren't bad, but it pales in comparison to the beat that doesn't sound like it was made 12 years ago. The song isn't as such a showcase for Benzino as 'The Thong Song' was for SISQO, but it did redeem him a little bit.

Deep Cuts, 
Deeper Thoughts

Swimming Pools- Kendrick Lamar
All of the Lights- Kanye West

For the people that enjoy a little depth with their dance songs or enjoy deciphering deeper messages in songs. 'All of the Lights' has a lush hypnotic beat to match the name of the song. It is packed with various elements including a cello section and various uncredited vocals from high profile personalities. The latter matches the overall flashy celebrity life commentary the song commits to. 'Swimming Pools' is a club banger about the troubles of excessive drinking. Need I say more, Kendrick is just infinitely brilliant.

Obligatory Sugar

Problem- Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea
XO- Beyonce

There are pop, Top 40's songs that aren't the worst! These are for both the people who likes the linear and uncomplicated sound pop songs provide, and the indie folks who can't deny it's merits. Ariana Grande keeps her tendency to over-sing under control while providing a prominent presence in her song 'Problem'. It contains a charming sax loop and some nice trumpet play throughout the song. Iggy stays in her lane and isn't too intrusive although she borders on eye roll level with the last few lines and her ad libs. 'XO' exudes confidence from the start by having the audacity to include a snippet from the 1986 Challenger launch. It captures the best aspect of Beyonce as an artist: Being celebratory in the most earnest way possible.

The Club Can't Handle You

BBD- Azealia Banks
Ain't Got No Dough- Eve feat. Missy Elliot

It's the songs with strong proclamations of how bad you are and damn it where's everyone notepad so they can take notes of your badass-ery. 'BBD' (Bad B*tches Do It) is a very straight forward typical club banger we've heard a billion times without the vocals. Banks has the special ability to dominate a song and make her own when she uses her voice in dynamic ways. Here she lowers it a register to give a cool reserved performance that still radiates power. 'Ain't Got No Dough' is a song that empowers you to feel that you have more money and resources than these raggedy dudes out here and that you can have fun by your damn self. Eve spits fire on the verses so you can feel the sting, and Missy follows up with the assist on the chorus to make the song as catchy and listenable as it could ever dream of being.

The 365th Post! Things Are Happening!

One of the most celebratory events that many nations recognize is the ending/beginning of a new year. New Years has become synonymous with not only celebration, but also reflection. We at WCCR 590 AM have had to come to terms with some events that will be taking place. In line with this symbolically numbered post will be going through an overhaul in design. We at the radio station want to simultaneously be intuitive to our audience and exponentially increase our output of content. We will be reconfiguring some things but in due time we will be the blog that you will have bookmarked, if you don't already.

Along with the website overhaul there is another great reason for our members to celebrate. With every year members graduate college to pursue a garden variety of goals and aspirations. It's always tough to say goodbye but we will do so and work harder to achieve more for our station. This year is slightly special because a portion of key members of WCCR will be leaving us. While all of the WCCR alumni have had a part in developing WCCR into the epitome of a student run program it is today, there will be a significant departure of important members, whom have been tenants of the station for a long time, this year. We will be sending them off with love. 

Also, we needed an excuse to take a mass selfie. Do you see how cute we are? We even have a miniature prayer circle front and center for the Sunday service grandmas. Isn't God good? Even through our crew is strong, we are still welcoming new members especially if you are looking to learn how to DJ. We are accepting aspiring DJ's with open arms.

I will be heading many of the changes that will occur so I hope you enjoy the shiny, polished, "your Auntie put the wrap over the sofa" revamp. I am incredibly happy to contribute to the blog and I'm willing to be that Auntie.

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