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French Connection

The techno wizardry of hipsters like Air, Daft Punk and Mirwais Ahmadzai (who worked on Madonna’s "Music") has generated international interest in the eclectic Paris school of music.

Air recently released their third studio album "Talkie Walkie," the follow-up to 2001’s overhyped "10,000 Hz Legend." In conjunction with this new release, the duo has hit the road and is currently performing around the country.

Air's Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin grew up in the posh village of Versailles south of Paris. The musicians attended the Conservatoire in Paris where a common friend introduced the two. The Frenchmen quickly developed a friendship, which resulted in the formation of Air.

The band's sleek hybrid of pop and electronica marked the emergence of the so-called "French Touch" movement in the influential and trend-setting London club circuit in the late '90s.

British hipsters were raving the subtle techno beats and stylish arrangements from Air and other electronica artists such as Daft Punk, Etienne de Crécy, Alex Gopher and Stardust ("Music Sounds Better With You").

In 1998, Air's debut album "Moon Safari" was an instant sensation and delivered the two underground hits "Sexy Boy" and "Kelly Watch The Stars."

It did not take long for American electro fans to take notice and create a cult-like "French Touch”" phenomenon stateside.

The two modern-day troubadours hit the sophomore slump in 2001. The group’s dissapointing "10,000 Hz Legend" featured an overwhelming amount of experimentation and incoherent songwriting.

For "Talkie Walkie," Dunckel and Godin teamed up with producer Nigel Godrich (R.E.M, Radiohead, Beck) and string arranger Michel Colombier (Madonna, Prince).

Fans will be thankful that the group has returned to their minimalist roots. The production of "Talkie Walkie" is cleaner and less cluttered with techno tricks. The group even took on most of the album’s vocals without the help of a vocoder.

Much like "Moon Safari," this record balances straightforward lyrics, futuristic electro and instantly infectious pop melodies.

"Cherry Blossom Girl" is one of those melodic synth gems. Jessica Banks' delicate guest vocals create an intimate landscape that is a perfect backdrop for the song’s message of longing and desire.

Equally sublime are the gentle "Mike Mills" and "Universal Traveler" that will sooth every long-haul traveler’s jet lag.

Air includes South Asian-type sitars, hectic street sounds and a hooky whistle on the pseudo-innocent "Alpha Beta Gaga," which started as a recording joke in the studio.

"Biological" is one of those oddly shaped productions that gain appeal after repeated play. The song’s artsy format is matched by lyrics that appear to be taken out of a CSI storyboard, "I need your DNA, your fingerprints, the flesh around your bones."

The album’s atmospheric closing track "Alone In Kyoto" was written at special request from Sofia Coppola and appears in her award-winning movie "Lost in Translation."

"Talkie Walkie" might not push the envelop as their debut "Moon Safari" once did, but Air makes a successful attempt to re-connect with their fans. The group once again demonstrates that electronic music can be enticing on both the dance floor and in the living room

The CD includes a bonus DVD with 35 minutes of live performances that was recorded in summer of 2002. A nice value for those that prefer to purchase the CD instead of seeing their show.

April 20, 2004 in Music Reviews | Permalink | Comments (1)

Jason Mraz on Marriage

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"It seems we have a president who chooses not to change the unconstitutional constitution and grant simple rights to those who may be truly in love, but insists on sealing the constitution for good with an all out ban on the issue. If you’ve never contacted your congressman before, now is an excellent time to exercise one of your last constitutional rights and defend nothing more than love. This isn’t an issue about going against god and ancient mythology, in fact, I believe it’s an act more towards god and good orderly direction, for the people and hopefully, by the people. And while you’ve got the president’s attention, remind him that the constitution that he’s so keen on protecting was printed on hemp paper."

Jason "The Remedy" Mraz on his web site.

April 19, 2004 in Artists on Gay Marriage | Permalink | Comments (5)

Sophie B. Hawkins Kicks Off Tour

Sophie B. Hawkins loves being on tour. She and her three bandmates are currently touring in their small van around the country. "We basically only stop for treats," she tells Arjan. "We take breaks at gas stations to get some new chips, water and souvenirs. Stopping is the best part of being on the road."

Over the years, the self-described "omnisexual" Hawkins has built a steady lesbian following. "The song lesbians most often request is 'Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover'," she says. "I am glad to give it to them."

The Grammy-nominated singer also performs songs from her upcoming record, “Wilderness,” which she co-produced with the Berman Brothers (Amber, Ben Jelen).

Hawkins also introduces fans to a new singer-songwriter: gay artist Jen Foster, who opens for Hawkins. "I like what Jen does," Hawkins says. "I think she is very good."

April 17, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Relax, it's just sex

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After seeming to be in full control for almost 20 years, Janet Jackson has decided to "lose control" a little lately. On her new album, “Damita Jo,” the singer kicks back and celebrates the pleasures of love and lust unlike ever before.

Even after the recent fury over her gutsy performance during the Super Bowl halftime show, Jackson is refusing to tone things down. As a result, "Damita Jo" has a parental warning slapped on its cover for sexually explicit content.

“Relax, it’s just sex,” she says on the album, anticipating some of the flak she will likely receive for her erotic lyrics.

Jackson, now 37, has evolved from a shy teen singer to a self-confident pop diva. Ever since her breakout album, "Control," the determined celebrity has attempted to do things her way without pressure from her famous brothers, dominating father or opinionated record executives.

The Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction" can be viewed as one of those deliberate (yet poorly timed) attempts by Jackson to display her independence and risqué side in an uncompromising fashion.

It was not the first time Jackson issued a powerful statement that garnered attention from fans and foes alike. She has subtly pushed the envelope since the beginning of her career, from the empowering "Control" (1986) to the socially conscious "Rhythm Nation 1814" (1989), to the liberating "Janet" (1993) and the deeply spiritual "The Velvet Rope" (1999).

"The Velvet Rope" firmly established Jackson as a gay icon. The singer tackled homophobia on "Free Xone," in which she proclaims that the world should be free of any discrimination. She also paid homage to a friend who died of AIDS complications on the album’s hit song "Together Again."

"Damita Jo" a well-crafted pop R&B album that balances familiar production hooks with Jackson’s chart smarts. The singer seems to be inspired by her romantic relationship with Atlanta-based rapper/producer Jermaine Dupri, whom she plans to marry this summer, according to news reports this week, with songs that explore love and intimacy.

Jackson once again teamed up with longtime collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to produce "Damita Jo." She co-wrote all of the songs on this latest CD with an illustrious group of songwriters that included Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Dallas Austin, rapper Kanye West and Cathy Dennis, who is mostly known for her work with pop kitten Kylie Minogue.

"Damita Jo" has 22 tracks. Besides 16 full-length songs, the album includes six interludes that are spoken, often poetic, introductions to the record’s most poignant tracks.

The CD’s title refers to Jackson’s middle name, but it also appears to be the singer’s frisky alter ego. Damita Jo is introduced on the album’s title track and described as "Sexy, quiet, shy, but down for a good time."

And Jackson shows no signs of trying to be subtle on the record’s third song "Sexhibiton." This jerky and tongue-in-cheek tune is all about pleasing her lover. On it, the singer croons, "sexplore you, feel the sexplosion … Fix the distance between us, never missing what you’re wishing."

Jackson’s sexual escapades continue with the suggestive "Strawberry Bounce," on which she advocates the pleasures of oral sex to "lose control."

"All Night (Don’t Stop)" should be an undisputed dance floor favorite with its infectious baseline and silky smooth vocal harmonies. The song switches right into the bump and grind "R&B Junkie," which is a vintage disco tune reminiscent of brother Michael’s “Off The Wall” album.

The singer trivially celebrates love and being in love on the record’s ample ballads such as "My Baby," "Truly" and "Warmth," which all feature her mellow crooning and soulful songwriting.

After almost 20 minutes of down-tempo tracks, Jackson concludes "Damita Jo" with the upbeat "Slolove," and the melodic single "Just A Little While," which has a catchy guitar riff.

Fans won’t be disappointed with Jackson’s latest contribution, an unapologetic nod to her evolving nasty girl image.

April 15, 2004 in Music Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pink on Marriage

"If you wanna marry Joe Millionaire, go ahead. If you're a celebrity and you wanna marry your high school sweetheart for 55 hours, go right ahead. If you're J. Lo, and you wanna marry 18 people, for 6 days each, hey! Go right on ahead! But if you happen to be reasonably minded and have fallen in love and wanna marry your soul mate and make a life of it, and you just so happen to be the same sex, then NO! How dare you! You demon creatures! We’d rather you just buy gasoline and support our war and continue to consume and fear in our country so we can make money off you. But do us a favor — don't hold hands in public. Love, Pink”

Pop star Pink in the Advocate this week.

April 13, 2004 in Artists on Gay Marriage | Permalink | Comments (3)