Saturday, 4 October 2014

Count On My Love: Tessanne Chin's Major Label Debut Showcases Her Winning Voice

Unless you’d been paying close attention to her various social media channels, you might never know that Jamaican songstress Tessanne Chin, winner of season 5 of NBC’s The Voice, released her major label debut Count On My Love all the way back in July. Yup, July. Limited promotional support from her label translated to the lowest post-Voice sales ever, with just a measly 7,000 units sold in the first week. And it’s a shame, because with Count On My Love, Tessanne shows us just why she deserved to be recognized for her powerhouse voice.

Now, this was never an album that would storm the charts. (Count On My Love debuted at #41 on the Billboard 200.) The songs were clearly chosen with an interest in showing off Tessanne’s vocal range, as opposed to ensuring commercial success. But the music is lilting and easy; Chin’s sound is noticeably more mature than her 2010 independent release, In Between Words.

The single choices are baffling however. Tumbling Down, Tessanne’s “coronation song”; written by Ryan Tedder of One Republic fame, and performed the night she was announced as the season’s winner; is a middling number. It’s a mid-temp, slightly pop-y ballad that doesn’t adequately let Tessanne shine, and should never have been chosen as the album’s lead single. The second single Everything Reminds Me Of You does nothing to improve on the tepid impact of the first.

A much better choice would have been the album’s incredibly radio friendly title track, Count On My Love; a delightfully breezy pop song with a distinct “island vibe.” It’s a great song, and by far the stand out track. The song could easily have been the sequel to her 2010 duet with local star Kees Dieffenthaller, Loving You. This fact brings to light another issue with the record: it is entirely a solo effort, with no collaborations. While Tessanne most definitely holds her own, proving her mettle from track to track, the lack of other voices is conspicuous, considering the number of high profile musicians she has worked with in the past.

The entire album has a consistent rock steady vibe, but this is both a blessing and curse. Many of the songs blend together, indistinguishable except by their hooks, and punctuated by Tessanne’s breathtaking voice. But the positives largely outweigh the negatives on this ten-track record. The tunes are very catchy, and they’re exactly the kind of songs you want to sing along to in your car. The melodies are fun and they show off Chin’s extraordinary vocals without lapsing into the oversinging that plagues many popular artists (*cough* Christina Aguilera *cough*) Chin’s voice easily reaches notes most wouldn’t dare attempt and her intermittent lapses into Jamaica patois are endearing, and a clever stylistic choice.

The one track that feels misplaced is the closing number, One Step Closer. While not a bad song, the track seems to be the one attempt to produce something radio ready. But the heavy bass and dubstep influences battle for attention with Tessane's voice, and it's a testament to her skills that they never quite overpower her. After nine tracks of breezy melodies, One Step Closer stands in stark contrast.

In the end, I give the album a B+. It’s a solid body of work that deserves far more recognition that it got. Tessanne’s skills don’t disappoint for a second, and the music shows how talented she really is.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Pop Culture, Racism And Values Dissonance: Dr. Algernon Edwards On Cinemax's #TheKnick

If there's any show you need to catch up on this summer, Cinemax's The Knick is it. Set at the titular Knickerbocker Hospital in 1900's New York, the show centers on a group of surgeons working at the turn of the century, using the era's boom in technological advancements to refine and improve their craft, and attempting to drive down obscenely high mortality rates.

So far, I've been thoroughly engrossed in watching the show unfold, but I've had a deep discomfort about the experience as well. As you may likely have deduced, 1900's New York was not.... a progressive time in the history of the United States, and much of the storyline revolves around the racism that Dr. Algernon Edwards (Andre Holland), the first black doctor at the hospital, must face not just from his colleagues, but also from the patients he treats and the world at large. The Knick does nothing to sugarcoat the prevalent racial attitudes of the time, nor does it make the show's protagonist Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) suspiciously enlightened for his time. Rather, the show goes to great lengths to reinforce that pretty much everyone is racist, and it refuses to let you forget it.

There's an element of respectability to Edwards' story too, that I didn't pick up on until I started writing this. Algernon Edwards is the best of the best. Having studied surgery all over Europe under the patronage of the family that owns the hospital (his mother is their longtime maid), Edwards is far and away the most qualified doctor at the Knick. He has co-authored and published papers in well-respected medical journals, and innovated surgical techniques and tools. His skills are unmatched by his fellow surgeons and yet, they refuse to work with him; Dr Everett Gallenger (Eric Johnson) is openly hostile to him within the surgical theatre and without, harboring perhaps understandable resentment that Edwards was appointed Deputy Chief of Surgery over him. 

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Bits & Bobs On Feminist Theory #14: On Emma Watson's Speech At The UN

White ladies, you are missing the point. Intentionally it seems. No one is saying that Emma Watson is racist. We're saying that mainstream feminism is  racist (and almost always has been), and that her failure to challenge that institution is racist. Slurs aren't required for racism. I can't change your point of view, if you're determined to be contrary and privilege blind, but your not understanding our objections doesn't make the point null. Intersectionality is key. It doesn't mean that Emma Watson wants to drown girl children in developing countries, it just means that solutions that help those of us who are best off, are unlikely to help those of us who are worst off, and recognizing this fact and tailoring policy changes to address that fact is imperative, otherwise the movement by default only benefits specific subsets of women. (Hint: it's never the ones who were denied schooling because of their race, or raped at higher rates because of their race, or left unprotected by the law because of their race, or unable to get out of poverty because their race denied them access to education and better employment opportunities.) 
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