Mark Ronson Review: Uptown Special

Mark Ronson

Uptown Special

 uptown

2014 was a big year for producers and artists switching roles with a lot of success. Ryan Adams and Beck both produced parts of Jenny Lewis’s wonderful The Voyager. The Black Keys continued to each produce plenty of work, with Auerbach almost single-handedly saving the Lana Del Rey record, and Patrick Carney making the Black Lips latest album bluesy and dirty. On the other hand, Pharrell, one half of legendary hip hop production team the Neptunes, released his second solo album in Girl, with huge summer hits in “Happy” and “Come Get it Bae”. Experimental hip hop and electronic producers Arca and Rustie both released great solo albums. Finally, the winter welcomed in the lead single of Mark Ronson, nostalgic English producer best known for his work with Amy Winehouse and Adele, the wonderful throwback jam of “Uptown Funk”. The bite-sized but largely talented Bruno Mars is used to full capacity, a swaggering tour-de-force vocal performance behind an electric funk band.
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Mark Ronson “Daffodils” Review

Mark Ronson

“Daffodils (featuring Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker)”

Mark Ronson and Kevin Parker's "Daffodil"

 

My latest obsession comes from one of my favorite producers and one of my favorite singers, but with the producer (Mark Ronson) as the main artist and singer (Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker) as the contributor.

For those unfamiliar, Mark Ronson is a retro-leaning producer that has played a huge role in a number of hits and hit musicians in the past two decades, namely being a big reason for the late Amy Winehouse’s success as well as responsible for hits by Adele, Bruno Mars, Lily Allen, Christina Aguilera, and many others. Mark Ronson also produced my favorite album from the Black Lips in Arabia Mountain, bringing some much needed pop sensibility to the Southern punks. Mark Ronson has released three of his own solo pop records, including the wonderfully fun Record Collection, released in 2010.
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Kevin Parker is the voice, guitar, and brains behind my favorite psychedelic rock band, Tame Impala, who released my favorite album of 2012 in their sophomore effort Lonerism. Parker and Tame Impala have been paired with David Fridmann, the producer known for the psychedelic and wild sounds of the Flaming Lips among others, so the idea of pairing Parker’s voice with more of a hit maker producer is pretty intriguing.

Parker is set to add vocals to three songs off of Ronson’s upcoming 2015 album, Uptown Special, which also features Bruno Mars (with the instant hit “Uptown Funk”), Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt, and others. “Daffodils” is a propulsive disco track which is too catchy to deny. The four-on-the-floor disco beat and the funky guitar riff pushes Parker’s voice along through a field of psychedelic noises, both inviting and disturbing.

Considering Ronson is known for a more hit-ready production, it’s actually a bit surprising how effects-laden this song is. The leading funk riff and the falsetto vocal of Parker make this sound like it’s coming out of a jukebox in a warped dream. The song builds with synthesizer freak-outs that threaten to detour or derail the song throughout, but actually just provide another facet of this song to explore. You can enjoy this song strictly on a pop/disco level, and also on a deeper level, digging into what effects are being added, taken out, and how the song advances so wonderfully.

Mark Ronson, like you, puts on his pants one leg at a time, but like Bruce Dickinson, when his pants are on, he makes gold records! “Daffodils” is Ronson applying his pop knack to the psychelic rock world, and I can’t wait to hear more.

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P.S. If you missed it, Mark Ronson is coming off a dynamite SNL performance with Bruno Mars and the long-awaited return of eccentric rapper Mystikal. See the performance of “Feel Right” below.

Nas Review: Life Is Good

Nas

Life Is Good

album cover art for the Nas album Life is Good cover art

It was 1994 when Nas released his debut album Illmatic, which helped strengthen the on-the-rise East coast hip hop scene all the more. Since then, he has released nine more albums, almost all of them being the same level of dynamic quality as his debut. Sure there were slumps here and there, a few rivalries sparked up (most infamously with Jay Z), and the birth of his mainstream success, but none of these things have ever seemed to phase Nas. He has always seemed to stay consistently on par making his own brand of jazzy, instrumental-based hip hop with tack sharp, socially poignant lyrics flowing over the back beats like wine through the gullet of Dionysus himself. The only thing that seems to separate Life Is Good from the rest of his albums is that it took him two extra years than it normally does for Nas to put the album out. Not that he took the time to recreate himself in any large way, but maybe to recover from the loss of some friends, the divorce from his wife Kelis (which is a primary theme in the album), and to try and figure out his place in hip hop once again, which I believe is still near the very top.
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Top 20 Thursday: 2011 Albums That Will Live In Infamy

Because we at Little by Listen enjoy letting you know what the best of the best is, we have opted to force upon you our Top 20 albums of 2011.  Constructing this list was much simpler than the top 20 songs, and thankfully didn’t end with me burning down Wes’ house or digging up Todd’s childhood pet and leaving it for him to find in his bed.  In fact making this list was a little too easy, possibly because Todd had a cold nose while we were making it, and probably just wanted to get the process over with.  Or maybe because Wes needed to tend to his beehives to collect some holiday honey (honey is coincidentally the name of Todd’s childhood pet btw).  Please enjoy the list we have so meticulously crafted, and feel free to throw your entries in the comments so we can immediately dismiss you as philistines with no taste.

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Amy Winehouse Review: Lioness

Amy Winehouse
Lioness: Hidden Treasures

We all knew it would come out eventually, it was just a matter of when. It’s a hard pill to swallow that Amy left so early in her career with so much promise in her future. She was only getting started, but it never really seemed like she was going to be able to pull herself together enough to become truly successful, or truly happy. Many bands have come and reworked the sounds of the 60’s into modern rock once again (ie The Strokes, The Hives, The Redwalls, Dr. Dog) But Amy and the pioneering team of producers behind her were spearheading the revival of that beloved Motown sound that had been missing in music for over 40 years. It was brilliant … She was brilliant. Unfortunately her untimely death has ceased any further progress, but rather than letting the unfinished demos/recordings lay wasted on their hard drive, producers Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi have hand picked and reworked a few tracks for Amy’s first posthumous compilation album, Lioness: Hidden Treasures. Both brilliant producers have their fingerprints all over this album, essentially constructing/producing every track on the album aside from two (“Wake Up Alone”, “Body and Soul”).
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