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Kelis: Flesh Tone
Forever engrained in pop culture memory for her saucy hits like ‘Milk Shake’ and the more abrasive ‘Caught Out There,' Kelis’ upcoming 2010 release Flesh Tone– expected to drop this July– shows the artist has not slowed her pace in the slightest.
It’s been nearly four years since Kelis’ last release, and the single releases that have hit the airwaves so far have reminded us just how much we’ve missed her.
Kelis is still sporting her signature shades of neon (or now-silver) hair dye and futuristic face paint, but it seems that all remnants of her bubblegum/milk-shaking days are gone. Her tracks feature grounded, resonating beats, even huskier vocals and an addictive tempo that effectively transcends the boundaries of hip-hop music.
Songs like ‘Home’ bring a complex layering of rhythm, with a mix of spoken work and chorus that will ultimately bring most trance, trip-hop and euro-trance fans to their feet.
Just as such gratuitous (albeit entirely enjoyable) concepts as ‘Milk Shake’ and ‘Bossy’ are no longer, Kelis has long since parted ways with Pharrell and the Neptunes crew, who were the grinding rock n’roll influence behind the likes of ‘Truth or Dare’ and ‘Young Fresh and New.’
Flesh Tone is Kelis’ first work on fellow artist will.i.am's label Interscope; and not surprisingly, the album’s hit single ‘Acapella’ is produced by David Guetta. While Kelis has never been shy to collaborate– with everyone from Andre 3000 on ‘Millionaire’ to O.D.B. in ‘Got Your Money’ on past albums, and now with Guetta, Jean Baptiste, Diplo and DJ Ammo to name a few– Flesh Tone is the first album to convey such a consistent tone and tenure from beginning to end.
Kelis also seems to have left off the ranting and raging of past tracks, without losing her bad edge. Instead, her lyrics are preoccupied with giving thanks for what we have, as in ‘4th of July’ where she chants ‘Nothing I’ll ever say or do/ Will be as good as loving you’ before breaking into a dance-inducing bridge.
Coming off the press coverage of a messy divorce from rapper Nas, which involved a heated custody battle over their son, Kelis’ work reflects some surprising peace in its line-up of grounded, powerful tracks.
What we’re most thankful for is that this album remains dynamic and continues to push musical and technical boundaries; as more often than not a content artist translates to mediocre pieces of art. Kelis continues to hold her own in the industry, and while her real-life happiness may remain a mystery; the music is real.
Album opener ‘San Angeles’ will get feet moving and booties shaking, but the rest of the album is decidedly more post-rock oriented. The influences of Pink Floyd only really make a grand appearance on psychedelic tune ‘Lunar Drift’, with its spooky synths and echoing bass line.
‘The Eliminator’ takes the listener back to the eighties again, as the repetitive electronic beat that is used sounds a lot like the 8-bit sounds that were the backdrop for many early eighties video games. Imagine the aforementioned desert wasteland turning 8-bit coloured.
The eighties also dominate in the strummed intro to ‘Martin Rev’, evoking memories of Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’. You’d almost think the guys of Maserati had wished they were making music a few decades ago.
There comes a time in everyone’s life when it's time for reflection; time to escape the rat race and go back to basics. Usually, this time is spent at some desolate place, like a cabin in the woods or some far away beach on a desert island; somewhere one can fully recharge and shift their focus back to what’s really important.
English singer-songwriter, Ed Harcourt, seems to have done just that on his new record Back into the Woods. But instead of a cabin in the woods or a tropical beach resort, Harcourt went back to basics at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London. The nine songs were written in a month and recorded in just six hours.
The end result is melancholic, but utterly beautiful, in all its naked simplicity. There’s a piano, an electric guitar and his wife on the violin, but that is all Harcourt has taken with him to create this record. The use of dubbed vocals on a handful of tracks, and an organ beefing up the bare framework of the song ‘Brothers and Sisters’, is as frivolous as this album gets.
It seems Harcourt returning to basics has paved the way for some lyrical introspection, as well. “You’ve got the good bits from your mother and the bad parts from me” and “pay no heed to good advice” he sings to his daughter on ‘Hey Little Bruiser’. He serenades his wife on ‘Wandering Eye’ as he muses, “I remember when I first saw you/I couldn’t move I was paralysed,” and on ‘The Pretty Girls’ he states “I always feel like the monster in this fairy tale."
In ‘The Cusp and the Wane’ the singer-songwriter tells us that Mozart died a pauper and that William Blake was ridiculed. “Let’s hear it for the underdog,” he sings – he might as well be singing about himself.
It’s always been a bit of a mystery how Jeff Buckley-esque singers and songwriters, such as Rufus Wainwright and Damien Rice, have managed to amass huge fan followings over the years, yet Harcourt still operates under the radar of the general music-loving audience.
It’s not like he hasn’t got the talent. Harcourt’s oeuvre is littered with brilliant compositions, most notably on the Mercury Prize nominated' Here Be Monsters (2001), The Beautiful Lie (2006) and Lustre (2010). They can certainly compete with the musical accomplishments of the likes of Rice, Wainwright and even Buckley, yet somehow, until now, Harcourt has failed to get as much attention. And that’s a real shame.
So here’s a free tip if you’re into singer-songwriters (especially the aforementioned ones): do yourself a favour and buy not only Back into the Woods, but Harcourt’s entire seven album discography. You won’t regret it.