Music Review: Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”

Music Review: Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”

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Critically acclaimed, French-Canadian indie-rock band, Arcade Fire, has released their fifth studio album, “Everything Now.” Since their debut back in 2004 with “Funeral,” Arcade Fire has taken the industry by storm, winning basically every music award imaginable and catapulting indie sounds into the mainstream conscious. With each new album’s release, Arcade Fire’s popularity, influence, and talent grows. But with this latest venture, the band nose dives from the pedestal they were put on. “Everything Now” lacks the lyrical, emotional, and auditory depth Arcade Fire is known for – what made them lovable underdogs, misfits, and self-proclaimed “weirdos” in the first place. The band’s ability to create a remarkably stunning and cohesive album is practically thrown out here (or perhaps gets weighed down entirely by the pressure to produce another Arcade Fire masterpiece.) Either way, the album’s overall sound delivers as “The World’s Lamest Disco,” from the title track’s ABBA-inspired cords (sadly the best track on the album), to the disjointed, painfully clichéd “Peter Pan,” to the album’s lead single, “Creature Comfort” (which is essentially an anti-suicide message that somehow comes off as self-centered thanks to a line about their music preventing a fan’s suicide), Arcade Fire is in a state of artistic crisis. For a band that has always stood for something, “Everything Now,” tries to stand for too much – and winds up standing for nothing.

 

 

Throwback Thursday: Radiohead Releases  “Creep”

Throwback Thursday: Radiohead Releases “Creep”

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On this day in 1992, Radiohead released their debut single, “Creep,” written by the band’s lead singer, Thom Yorke, while he attended University in the late 1980’s. Radiohead performed the song for their producers during rehearsals for their first album, “Pablo Honey.” After a successful single take recording, their producers decided to make “Creep” the band’s debut single. “Creep” met little success in the UK and the US, receiving very little airtime on the radio because many DJs found the song “too depressing.” The single initially sold only 6,000 copies. It wasn’t until the release of “Pablo Honey” in February 1993 that “Creep” became a worldwide hit and eventually, one of Radiohead’s best known songs.

Alexa, is this all just a fad?

Alexa, is this all just a fad?

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According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, more and more electronic manufacturers in China, like Alibaba, are getting involved in the AI smart speaker market, fueling its growth and begging the question: are talking speakers just a passing tech fad or are they here to stay?

 

In the US, tech giants, Amazon and Google, dominate the AI smart speaker space with their Alexa-enabled Echo and Echo Dot; and the Google Assistant-powered Google Home, respectively. As the Wall Street Journal notes: “tech giants [and] consumer electronics makers…all see voice-activated products as the gateway to a future where platforms animated by artificial intelligence will power homes, cars and offices. To some, this first wave in the AI revolution already looks frothy.” And that sentiment is seen played out in Apple’s recently announced Siri-enabled smart speaker, HomePod. A late addition to the fray, the HomePod will be available to consumers by December 2017, and it’s capabilities are an indication that it’s entering a rapidly maturing market.

 

The HomePod’s positioning is geared more towards smart acoustics than smart AI. Yes, users can control the speaker via Siri voice activation, but the majority of the speaker’s smart functions are audio or music related. One reason for investing heavily in smart acoustics is because, so far, smart speakers don’t sound that great. To differentiate themselves from the pack, Apple is attempting to offer an alternative smart speaker for audiophiles, music enthusiasts and Apple loyalists. Will this positioning work? Perhaps. But the fact remains – the HomePod is merely a lateral move in terms of smart home advancement.

 

For a new technology, innovation in the smart speaker sphere has been fairly stagnant (for more on this, read my previous blog post “A Clear Path for Voice Control”), and many people who were looking to Apple as a game changer in the field were left mostly underwhelmed by the unveiling of HomePod. Therefore, the direction Apple took with it’s smart speaker only adds to the feeling that the smart speaker bubble is about ready to burst, since we’re still getting variations of “more of the same.”

 

Amazon, on the other hand, has spent this year rolling out AI smart devices that are not just music speakers, though this fragmentation of the Smart-AI market is already looking too niche for sustained growth. Products such as the Amazon Echo Show (an Echo with video capabilities) and the Amazon Echo Look (an Echo with a camera so you can take pictures of your outfits to log in your “virtual closet” and get fashion advice from “experts”) seem more like placeholder products than fully thought-through use-cases. Amazon knows that the design and UI of the Show are flawed (for example, there’s no way to decline a video call, so friends or relatives with a Show can pop into yours at any moment), and Amazon knows that the Look is about as useful as, what’s it called? Oh yeah, a mirror. But Amazon also knows that AI technology is in a moment of stasis, and between now and the next major smart home breakthrough, they are doing everything they can to keep the ball rolling (and capture an exuberant amount of data about its customers).

So, are AI smart speakers just a fad? Is the bubble about to burst? Perhaps the answer to that is a soft “no.” As smart speakers stand today, the use cases for it are fairly narrow, but that doesn’t mean more smart home innovation won’t branch out from it, as many see the smart speaker as playing a pivotal role in the future smart home. There’s a lot that can be done with an AI smart speaker in the future, but the technology needs to catch up to the possibilities.

Music Review: Lana Del Rey, “Lust for Life”

Music Review: Lana Del Rey, “Lust for Life”

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The master of melancholy, Lana Del Rey, is back with “Lust for Life,” her fifth studio album. Since Del Rey exploded onto the music scene in 2011 with her viral music video for “Video Games,” she has captivated our imaginations – an enigma wrapped in the American flag, old Hollywood glamour, and clinical depression. With “Lust for Life,” Del Rey continues her legacy, filled with the cinematic stylization and vintage pop culture allusions her fans have grown to love (and expect) from her music. The album is beautifully composed, lending her luscious, romantic vocals to hip hop beats, protest songs, and youthful anthems alike. Opener and lead single, “Love,” is as dreamy as it is empowering; while “In My Feelings,” is as cool as Del Rey herself. Joining her on the album’s title track is The Weeknd, while on “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems” Del Rey looks at the world from above with Stevie Nicks. Overall, “Lust for Life” is as heartbreaking of an album as it is hopeful – a statement piece for an artist so intricately associated with images of Americana during our current national crisis of identity.

Throwback Thursday: Amy Winehouse is born

Throwback Thursday: Amy Winehouse is born

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On this day in 1983, award winning British singer and songwriter, Amy Winehouse, was born in Southgate, London. Winehouse was best known for for mixing soul, jazz, and rhythm and blues styles in her music, as well as her unique, raspy vocals and her “delinquent” persona accompanied by a retro, beehive hairdo. She began pursuing music at an early age, thanks to her musically inclined extended family, and attended various performing arts schools in London throughout her adolescence. Winehouse’s debut album, Frank (2003), was a success in the UK and was nominated for the Mercury Prize. Her sophomore album, Back to Black (2006), resulted in five Grammy Awards in 2008, as well as the Brit Award for Best Female Artist. Winehouse tragically died of alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011, at the age of 27, but her music, image, and influence remain strong to this day.