One Random Single a Day #78: “Inner Disbelief” (2009) by dBridge

Oh geez… I’m going to keep this one short because I’m actually pretty clueless on how to talk about drum and bass as a whole and I really don’t want to make myself look like a fool. Also, I’ve got about five other reviews to catch up to at this point, so I’m not going to dilly-dally on the uninteresting stuff.

dBridge is the conception of English producer Darren White, whose career has stretched back all the way to the early 90s, when drum and bass was still up and coming. He has released one full length album thus far, that being 2008’s The Gemini Principle, but has nonetheless remained pretty relevant and active in the techno and house scenes ever since. He is an important name in the genre and scene known as Minimal Drum and Bass, which pretty much captures the essence of the jungle drums and pounding rhythms of drum and bass, with production stripped down to as minimalist and empty as possible while still retaining its general groove and production tendencies.

I’ve listened to “Inner Disbelief” a couple times and… yeah, it pretty much captures this brief description of minimal drum and bass to a tee. Instrumentally, apart from a few sparse pianos and some consistent percussion clicks and pounds, there’s really not much else going on there. With the piano and the R&B vocals that come in a bit later, though, I am reminded of 90s and 2000s house music, much of which heavily possess these very trademarks. Unlike house music, however, it’s very unlikely you’d see me dancing along to a track such as this – the production simply invites more of a listening experience, rather than one that is felt by the whole body.

I really don’t have much else to say about this one. I guess I like it, but you’d also probably find me listening to a million other electronic/dance tracks before I’d give this one a spin. I’m sure there’s some real genius going on in these compositions from dBridge – I just highly doubt that I’m the one who’s going to parse them out any time soon. (I’m sorry this review is bad; I am tired and want to catch up on this challenge already!!)

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One Random Single a Day #77: “Miguel e Isabel” (1966) by Luis Aguilé

Now here’s someone I would have undoubtedly been swooning over had I been a teen or young adult in the mid-60s. Luis Aguilé was an Argentine singer and songwriter, with the bulk of his recording career taking place throughout the 60s and 70s. Many of his recorded songs fall in line with the styles of the traditional romantic ballad – from the likes of Frank Sinatra and such – but he’s also known to inject some uptempo pop stylings into these traditions as well. He is known as an early innovator of “la canción de verano” which literally translates to “the song of summer” and refers to Spanish-language tracks with catchy lyrics and danceable rhythms. Popular recordings of Aguilé’s such as “La fuerza del amor” and “Juanita banana” effectively demonstrate this tendency toward romantic sensibilities with a large helping of uptempo fun vibes thrown in for good measure. Many have also noted his charming wit and demeanor during his stints as actor and showman, so that definitely ties in with his breed of music.

Nonetheless, Aguilé wasn’t just a one-note player – his talent can also be shown in recordings of his straight ballads and more lower tempo fare. His most renown recording is probably “Cuando salí de Cuba”, a sentimental and poignant string-laden song that has since been adopted as an official anthem of sorts for Cuban exiles and their descendants. This is certainly helped by the fact that Aguilé really doesn’t have too bad of a voice at all, singing out seemingly every line in sultry, delicate tenor. Such is the case with the single for today as well, “Miguel e Isabel”. Without even translating the lyrics to this one, the weeping instrumental coupled with the performer’s impassioned vocals present a fully sentimental ballad, fully involved on the melodramatic and romantic side of things.

Judging from the title alone, it’s clear to see that this is a love song of sorts between a man and a woman (or perhaps a boy and a girl). With a quick translation, it’s clear that the romantic tale is presented with perhaps a bit more French sensibility than we’re used to seeing in a Spanish performer. The very first line of the chorus – “Miguel e Isabel perdieron su amor” – translates loosely to “Miguel and Isabel have lost their love”, so you can imagine the road it takes from then on. There’s actually some pretty clever lyrics thrown in here that express the contradictory dynamic between our two protagonists. I am especially a fan of the couplet that declares how one lives for their betrothed, while the other dies for them. It really paints quite a vivid portrait of a dying relationship, especially of one that seems to be withering away despite how hard both parties desperately try to make it work.

I guess if there’s anything I dislike about this one, it’s the couplet at the end that suggests that Miguel has been unfaithful to Isabel, yet Isabel finding herself alone and unloved is of fault of her own because of her unwillingness to forgive him. It just makes sense that if one member of a relationship broke a promise kept between the two of them, it’s up to the other member to choose whether or not to forgive them for this folly. And they certainly shouldn’t be shamed for making their choice, whether it be to help make the relationship work or otherwise – a choice that isn’t an easy one to make in the first place. Of course, the lyrics are pretty simple enough in the first place that this misstep could probably be ignored in place of the other, much greater positive qualities this track has going for it. At least I can be certain of Luis Aguilé being a name I really need to look into in later times.

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One Random Single a Day #76: “Ne retiens pas tes larmes” (2005) by Amel Bent

Amel Bent is a French performer whose career was jump-started by her inclusion in the TV talent showcase Nouvelle Star, which is essentially the French equivalent of Pop Idol and American Idol. Although she was eliminated from the show in the semifinal round, she was nonetheless a fan favorite. She was quickly signed and released her debut album Un Jour d’été; her first single from the album, “Ma philosophie”, shot up to #1 in the French charts and stayed there for an impressive six weeks. Since then, she’s enjoyed a considerable amount of success performing and recording for the past ten years. Although the amount of fame she’s attained has nowhere near the amount of reach as Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood, she is still the most successful alum of Nouvelle Star thus far.

While she does have a fairly pleasant voice from the tracks I’ve listened to, it’s clear that the music she records is far more controlled by the production and engineering of these records rather than the skill of her voice itself. The singles from his first album, for example, sound very much like they take influence from production techniques of 90s R&B (even though this album was released in 2004). “Ma philosophie” was the first ever recording I’ve heard of hers and I was immediately taken aback by how much the introduction mirrors Jennifer Lopez’s “If You Had My Love”. The various synth sounds in the track also invite comparison to the likes of Destiny’s Child and TLC, while Bent’s voice itself has subtle shades of Britney Spears’ distinct vocals, though Bent definitely has more of a sense of control on her vocals than Spears did at this stage in her career. In any case, “Ma philosophie” is a fairly catchy little track and after a few listens it’s not hard to see how this one made it to the top of the charts.

“Ne retiens pas tes larmes” was the second single of Bent’s to reach #1, which quickly digs her out of the one-hit wonder trap to which so many fall prey. Like her other recordings, this one is definitely more a work of the producer(s) than anything else really, but at least this was the one out of her first three smash singles that most demonstrates the emotional appeal of her vocal talent. Her singing is enveloped in a crisp cascade of keys and drums that, while appearing pretty bland on surface-level, do highlight the subtleties of her vocal power rather well. Lyrically, this translates to pretty much the polar opposite of Melissa Manchester’s “Don’t Cry Out Loud” – which is a huge plus, since I’ve found the message of the song distractingly quaint to begin with. It forgoes the message of emotional suppression in the face of turmoil, instead daring to suggest that, actually, it is okay to cry if that’s your natural response to things. Truthfully, I think we always need more songs that remind us that crying is a natural response to stress and confusion, and I do think that it’s nice that this song is essentially inviting this urge to cry away the pain.

Now, with that said, this is nowhere near an exceptional single. It’s fine to listen to on occasion, but the mixing of this track in particular and Bent’s early work in general just give off the sense of the record company’s fingerprints being overly friendly with the material. It’s true that there are musicians who have proven to rise above the producer’s influence and effectively demonstrated their talent in the face of major interference, but I just don’t think that’s the case here. Of course, this is a debut album from a individual who already possesses a fair amount of star appeal, so it makes sense that this wouldn’t be the most accurate demonstration of what she has to offer. I haven’t looked into much of Bent’s later recordings at all, but my biggest hope is that she has eventually flowered past the generic sounds of her debut into something greater and more distinct. Her exceptional talent certainly shows that she’s perfectly capable of such a feat.

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One Random Single a Day #75: “Glad All Over” (1980) by Suzi Quatro

There’s always so many hearts in my eyes when I come upon some female musicians in this challenge – especially when it’s those for whom I already hold a fair amount of admiration. Suzi Quatro has been reveled by many as one of the biggest figureheads for female representation in the largely male-dominated rock scene. She was the first female bass player to become a major rock star in the US, leading the way to a multitude of other women playing bass in some of the biggest rock bands around (some of whom being among my absolute favorite musicians ever). Although I’ve always preferred her early work as a member of the proto-punk band The Pleasure Seekers, there’s no denying her just how interesting her solo career is as well. While she has released numerous biting rock ‘n’ roll singles throughout her career, her only top ten hit in the US is the AOR duet with Chris Norman, “Stumblin’ In”, during a brief period where her music took a far more mellower turn.

Today’s single comes from Quatro’s 1980 album Rock Hard which, while being a return to more rambunctious form for the musician, also came at a point where her career was starting to wane and was her least commercially successful album to date. “Glad All Over” is, as many would guess, a cover of the Dave Clark five song of the same name. I was actually quite pleased to see a cover of this song pop up on my radar, considering that The Dave Clark Five have been one British Invasion group that seemed to have been mostly forgotten about today. Sure this single release comes right at the sweet spot of the early 80s infatuation with the 60s (which I wrote about sporadically in my overview of Billboard’s top 100 songs of 1981), but most of the time it’s The Kinks, The Animals, and especially The Beatles that have gotten the cover treatment through the years. History shows that The Dave Clark Five, at their peak, were the second biggest British Invasion band, so it warms my heart to see them being paid just a bit of homage.

As a cover song, though, this is pretty straight-forward. I have written about a good number of cover songs on this challenge at this point, and I’ve mentioned recently that a great cover is one that pays just the right amount of respect to its source material, with the artist also adding their own distinct flair to the recording and not just strictly adhering to the original formula. While it is true that Quatro injects a profound element of glam rock into this song that just so happens to work perfectly with the poppy love song, I think it also hand-holds with the original to a certain degree that prevents it from reaching any stage of true greatness. With that being said, though, even though there is a noticeable tiredness in the quality of production here, Quatro’s performance and personality revitalizes the otherwise dated track into something intrinsically pure and wonderful. It’s just a fun party song, nothing more and nothing less. By such measures, there’s no way this could be anything other than yet another glimmering success from the legendary performer.

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One Random Single a Day #74: “Nord-Express” (1963) by Les Apaches

Here’s yet another one of these ghost bands. It’s not that they are literally ghosts (even though that would be awesome), but it’s just that for the life of me I cannot find much of any additionally information on the group that could possibly help me understand today’s single a bit better. Although there’s nothing at all invalid about reviewing a record with no more information on hand than the sonic qualities of the record alone, whenever possible I also want to learn about the band or artist themselves. I hold the opinion that learning more about the artist’s history and applying the single to a larger context could help provide a richer listening experience in whole. As it stands, though, all I really know about Les Apaches is that they hail from Liége, Belgium and only officially released four instrumental singles between 1962 and 1963. The photo above, while being the only decent record cover image I can get, is also the only photo I can find of the group period – for all I know, this could be the only picture of all of them together in existence!

So I ended up listening to all four of their single releases (I figured I may as well). For the most part, the impression they give off is that they are a mild attempt to pull off what popular American instrumental groups- like The Shadows and The Ventures – were doing at the time. 1963 was also the year of such chart smashing surf rock instrumentals as The Chantay’s “Pipeline” and The Surfaris’ “Wipe Out”, so it would make sense that groups from across the pond would attempt to tap into this trend as well. Their single “Colorado”, for example, is quite obviously trying for the same lyrical, atmospheric instrumental sound as “Pipeline” so exquisitely accomplished. Nonetheless, although the bassline in this one is similarly animated and quite delicious to listen to, the twangy guitar riff packs far less of a punch and does damper the mood in this one quite a bit. That might just be where Les Apaches falters: with all the propensity for instrumental structure of The Shadows, but significantly less of the magical formulaic qualities that make The Shadows so timeless. And yes, it it terribly clear that they were trying to market themselves off of The Shadows’ appeal – their name is Les Apaches, for crying out loud!

But anyway, onto the single in question for the day. “Nord-Express” is… well, no different from any other description I gave of the band’s music above. If “Colorado” was akin to a watered-down “Pipeline”, “Nord-Express” is a significantly less cool “Wipe Out”. It does the whole twelve-bar blues thing, although the bass arpeggio present here is so standard and overused, it’s hardly worth batting an eyelash at. The guitar riff that comes in later livens things up a bit, but that bass riff is so heavy it just weighs down pretty much the rest of the recording. Even more strange, after a few bars of playing, all of the instruments just kind of back away and leave the drums to perform a solo until they eventually come back in for the finale. Once again, this seems like yet another tribute to the drum fills in “Wipe Out”, but there’s no denying that this is so much less effective.

Maybe it’s unfair to describe a small band in ways that compare it to bands that are clearly huge deals, but when it’s so clear that this is exactly what they’re going for, pulling out the contrasts seem all the more fitting. This band and their label saw that the surf rock thing was becoming big in the States and decided to try it out for themselves, using the title of a Shadows track for their own name and lifting trends from such bands in order to gain some of their appeal in the wider music market. Clearly, they weren’t all that successful, and I feel like part of it was definitely because of their lack of their own defined image. Why would anyone want to listen to lesser versions of Shadows and Chantays records when they could just listen to The Shadows or The Chantays? In any case, though, the band is far from bad – I just wouldn’t think to listen to them besides in the standard disposable background noise kind of way.

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