Friday, May 30th

Review of Pharrell’s Album “Girl”

Girl album cover by Pharrell Williams

I waited two years for Pharrell Williams to release Girl. I ran to Waterloo Records and picked up a copy the day it dropped and have been listening to it nonstop in my car ever since. After giving it a listen between 100 and 200 times, I’m finally ready to talk about it. Let’s do this.

I’ve been with Pharrell through every N.E.R.D. album. I saw them when they played in Austin in 2010. I’ve been obsessed with everything The Neptunes touched and have read just about every interview. So, yeah. I’m a huge fan. (No disrespect to those of you who are just getting on board with Happy. Now go buy some old stuff.)

I should quickly note that this is a pop album, not hip-hop. So fans looking for that N.E.R.D. edge will have to look elsewhere.

The album opens with the infectious Marilyn Monroe. The initial strains are reminiscent of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills theme song. I don’t hate it. Mr. Betty says sounds like Pharrell is saying, “The diarrhea is happening yeaaaaaah!” It’s true. Anyway, it’s got a video so here you go.

The collaborative songs on the album are all strong. The chemistry between Pharrell and Justin Timberlake is great and Brand New is a likely contender for a single. (Every song on the album is radio friendly, actually.) Duet Know Who You Are with Alicia Keys is a personal favorite. The laid back vocals and upbeat soul are perfect to showcase both their voices. Gust of Wind proves that creative lightning indeed can strike twice. Like Lose Yourself to Dance or Get Lucky, his partnership with Daft Punk results in pure magic. It’s my favorite song on the album, hands down. It’s groovy, funky, and reminiscent of Jamiroquai…but with French robots. And violins.

Genre exploration is the Girls bedrock and Hunter is solidly in the 80s. It’s another one of my favorites. Less successful is Lost Queen which is overly simplistic in its South African folk inspiration. Although there’s another song hidden on the track (Freq) and it’s worth the wait. It Girl closes out the album and feels the most like N.E.R.D. than any other song. Fantastic.

I’m just crazy about Girl as a body of work. A great listen in its entirety, which is rare. (For me at least. I’m a track skipper.) Not to say Pharrell doesn’t have his weak points. First…let’s get rid of that fucking hat already. The park ranger look is so over. He used to wear normal hats:

Pharrell Williams

Secondly, lyrics have never been his strength and he hasn’t improved over time. As huge as Happy is, I think the lyrics could be better. What the hell is a room without a roof?

Here’s an example from Gust of Wind: When I open the window/I want to hug your/Cause you remind me of the air/yeah.

I mean, one can hug almost anything. But not air. Anyway, the lyrics aren’t ruining the songs, but they could be better.

Discopop recently alleged that Pharrell can’t write an intro and relies on the same looping technique to open each song. They even put together a playlist of intros, so you can check it out for yourself.

When I listen to this I’m just reminded of how much I love so many of his songs. I’ll leave you with one more video. Some classic N.E.R.D.

Wednesday, May 21st

A Better Workout: RELAYS Giveaway

I’ve been hitting the gym a lot lately. I like to hide out in the dark bike studio and hold my own private spin class during off hours. Why do I ride on my own? Because I’ve been to enough classes to have developed my own tough routine and frankly, I want my own music. The teachers at my gym tend towards either techno or Kenny Logins. I mean…just…no.

Lately my workouts have been improved by my earbuds. Sol Republic sent me a pair of RELAYS to try out and you guys, they are fantastic. They are specifically made for working out and they don’t fall out. No matter what you do, those suckers stay in!

Sol Republic RELAYS

 

You can sweat like crazy, lay on the floor for crunches or stretching, or shake your head around. They’ll stay in. And the sound quality is tight, too. They retail for about $80, so these are premium in-ear headphones that will last. Also useful when you’re not working out, the three-button operation gives you control over your music, the mic, and your phone. They come with four cushions so you can customize the fit that’s best for you. (I use the second-smallest cushions.) You pull the back of your ear a bit, gently insert it until it feels comfortably secure and go about your business.

Sol Republic RELAYS

 

So how can you win a pair? Just leave me a comment and tell me one workout song that gets you pumped. I’ll randomly draw a name on June 4th. (Like Sol Republic and Mad Betty on Facebook for extra chances to win!)

*I received a free pair of RELAYS for review purposes, but I was not paid for my review and all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, March 19th

Exhaustion and Mixed Emotions at SXSW

No matter how much I try to prepare in the weeks leading up to SXSW, it’s always a scramble. Part of it is the nature of the conference and surrounding events; there’s little notice as to what’s really going on. I earnestly RSVP to everything I can in the hopes that I’ll make it into the must-do events, all the while knowing that I’ll never keep up with my overly ambitious schedule. The invites come later and later, so being flexible, yet prepared, is crucial. The day I had planned to really wander around and check out the free events surrounding Interactive, it was cold, rainy, and miserable. Craft Taste and I went to a fun party hosted by Pinterest at La Barbecue. Food and drinks were free and we checked out the Pinnebago and listened to a female punk band. We missed Grumpy Cat, the Game of Thrones exhibit, and countless other things. We walked around, saw some stuff, and went home soaking wet. The day I brought my DSLR to take the really good pictures? A total wash.

Pinnebago

We made it into the first Kimmel taping and saw Seth Rogen and Snoop Dogg. Although we were seated way up high in the balcony, it was a fun experience and I was glad we went. I especially enjoyed Jimmy’s house band Cleto and the Cletones. Even more than the musical guest White Denim.

Jimmy Kimmel in Austin

Later, I won tickets for the opening night of the iTunes Festival. Winning didn’t mean we got to skip the very long line, but once inside the Moody Theater we were afforded a spot close to the stage amongst a crowd equally excited to be there. But no one was as excited to be there as Imagine Dragons, whose energy and and enthusiasm were through the roof.

Imagine Dragons in the Moody Theater for iTunes Festival at SXSW

Imagine Dragons in the Moody Theater for iTunes Festival at SXSW

Imagine Dragons in the Moody Theater for iTunes Festival at SXSW

Coldplay was grown up and polished, putting on a flawless performance under a dazzling light show. No bullshit on stage or in the crowd. It was ideal.

Coldplay in the Moody Theater for iTunes Festival at SXSW

Coldplay in the Moody Theater for iTunes Festival at SXSW

Coldplay in the Moody Theater for iTunes Festival at SXSW

I took advantage of my official SXSW Guest Pass and checked out the marketplace one day. It was clearly the tail end for the vendors, but it’s one of my favorite conference expos and I lingered at the booths with live music and good swag. I’m always amazed at how grand some of the booths are. I especially love checking out the other countries’ offerings.

SXSW Marketplace

Perhaps the coolest event we went to was the Heartbreakers Ball. (It didn’t hurt that we were chauffeured in a stretch limo and given VIP badges.) It was our first time visiting Willie Nelson’s ranch at Luck Texas. The ranch is more of a set for an Old Western with a chapel, a jail, a saloon, and other buildings. I loved that much of the property is used to foster horses. We watched people line up for free tattoos and drinks made with Midnight Moonshine in between the rocking sets. Willie and friends took the stage at the end of the night and despite the late hour and the cold, Willie was fantastic. I don’t know if all that pot-smoking has served as a preservative, but his voice was strong and smooth, unaffected by his many years. It was quite a show.

Willie Nelson's Luck, Texas

Willie Nelson and Friends at SXSW Heartbreakers Banquet

The aftermath of the tragic drunk driving accident that killed three people left a dark cloud over Austin. The city reeled from the news and shed tears for the lives lost and the news gained international attention. There’s no denying that SX is forever changed. We will remember and reflect on this every year. Criticisms arose and people questioned whether the excess of free flowing booze is hurting the intention of the festival. It seemed that the louder criticisms were directed towards the overblown commercialism of the conference and surrounding events. It seems that the sponsors are running the show now and no one is happy about it. In the days following SX, Austin is usually enjoying a tired but happy afterglow. This year we are collectively wincing at all the bad press and trying to figure out how the hell this happened. I predict big changes for next year.

I’m proud to live in Austin. I love that for two weeks every year we become the center of the universe and celebrate artistry and intelligence. South by Southwest celebrates the future and creates history. I hope we are able to strike a better balance in the years to come, retaining the indie spirit on which the festival was built, while letting sponsors be a part of the action in a more authentic way.

What are your thoughts on SXSW 2014?

Tuesday, March 4th

WIN TICKETS to Heartbreaker Banquet

For the third year in a row Willie Nelson is hosting the Heartbreaker Banquet at his private ranch in Luck, Texas. The one-day event will benefit the SIMS Foundation, which provides life-saving mental health services to Austin musicians and their families. 

Heartbreaker Banquet 2014

The exclusive event will take place Thursday, March 13th with two stages and 18 acts including:

  • The Wild Feathers
  • Shakey Graves
  • J. Roddy Walston
  • Elle King
  • Noah Gunderson

There will be pop-up shops. A free bar at the Midnight Moonshine Saloon. People-watching. Dancing. A surprise headliner!

So how can you get in to this invite only event? By winning tickets! I have four pairs of tickets to give away, so go ahead and enter now by doing the following.

1. Make sure you like @MadBettyATX on Twitter or Instagram.

2. Tweet this:

RT to WIN: Hey @MadBettyATX, I want to win @JJMidnightMoon tickets to the @HBbanquet held at Willie Nelson’s ranch #HBbanquet #SXSW

And that’s it. Easy! Contest ends Friday, March 7th and winners will be notified that day. Click here to learn more about the Heartbreaker Banquet.

Friday, February 28th

Where you want to be at SXSW

South By is so close we can almost taste it. We are fully into RSVP season. If you didn’t use RSVPster to do the dirty work for you, you’d better be on the ball by now. Make sure to get your SXSW Guest Pass, for its inaugural year. It’s free, easy, and they let you take two.

Here are my picks:

Startup Crawl. This pre-SXSW (March 6th) event thrives on buzzing anticipation of the days ahead, but is exciting all on its own. Meet and mingle with Austin’s brightest new businesses, with drinks and bites along the way. Stop by BASHH while you’re out and about.

The BASHH

Spotify House. Lots of bands! Stop by anytime in the five days (March 10th-14th) to hear the diverse playlist.

House of Vans. I can only hope to score a new pair of Vans at one of these parties. The Mohawk will be rocking day, night, indoors and outdoors. (March 11th-15th) No RSVP required.

Hype Hotel has two different wristbands for day and evening events. The evening is more exclusive and the day bands are easier to procure. Sponsored by Taco Bell and Tito’s Vodka, among others, you’ll have fun no matter what time you go. (March 11th-16th)

Lagunitas CouchTrippin will be pack Cedar Street Courtyard by craft beer drinkers and fans of Shakey Graves. No badge for this party, so bring a printout or your smartphone for proof of RSVP at this small-ish venue. (March 12th, noon)

Warp x LuckyMe is a little bit of a mystery so far, but I’ve never gone wrong at the Empire Show Room. (March 12th, 6:30)

Fader Fort is the hottest free wristband during SX. Cut-throat RSVPs mean many won’t make it in, but this year seems to be a bit of a lottery system rather than first-come first served. Surprise guests always make The Fader exciting.

Fader Fort

Photo credit: Adam Kissick for NPR

Pandora Discovery Den is back for the third year. 35 music acts will take the stage at The Gatsby (March 12th-15th.)

Red Bull Sound Select will be taking over The Belmont March 12th-15th. I had a blast watching bands at The Belmont last year and got some of my favorite swag there.

Austin Party Weekend will camp out at Empire Show Room and Garage for a few days (March 13th-15th) cramming in tons of music from noon to 2 am.

If you need to get out of the thick of it, take a breather at the classy Hotel Ella. A three-day party (March 8-10) on the front lawn will have live music and free Deep Eddy drinks.

Doritos Bold Stage

I’ll be hitting these parties in between private events, which I always prioritize. I’ll also make an attempt to hit the free shows at Waterloo Records. And the tweet-powered giant Doritos vending machine. And stalking Lady Gaga. Maybe hitting Rachael Ray’s Feedback? (No word on that one as of posting.)

Fun Fact! I received an email stating that SXSW has 76,297 attendees and generated 859, 171 tweets. I think we can hit a million this year, don’t you? Don’t forget to use the #SXSW hashtags!

Monday, February 17th

How to Get Through SXSW

It’s never too early to start getting ready for South by Southwest. In Austin, it’s our next big season after the holidays. We mark time by it, fretting about what we need to accomplish before South By and what we don’t want to think about until after South By.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at SXSW

For those that haven’t attempted it yet, I want to reassure you that you can fully partake in the excitement of the conference without paying for a badge. Badges top out at about $1700 for the walk-up rate of Platinum badge, and are cheaper the earlier you buy. The cheapest it gets is for a Film badge at $500, but you have to buy it in September of the previous year. So…yeah. It’s expensive.

Fear not! There are tons of free events. Waaay too many to list here and far too many to predict in advance. The key to South By is to be available, be prepared, and roll with the punches. Be content to miss certain things and just enjoy the moment you’re in. For each amazing show you see, you are missing 50 more. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in the hype of secret shows, which is big part of South By. But you can’t do everything, so make peace with it or you’ll drive yourself crazy. The worst thing you can do is run from place to place, trying to get in and spending more time standing in line than doing anything else. So, without further ado, here are my tips:

Be Available

1. First of all, you have to get yourself where you need to be. This is the time to acquaint yourself with public transportation, ride your bike, or hitch a ride with friends because parking SUCKS.

2. For Interactive (March 7-11) you want to be downtown. This is the week of the best freebies. All the tech companies are giving out fun swag, free drinks, and throwing parties. Bars and restaurants will turn into branded lounges. Go in, get a drink, pick up a free JamBox and learn about SoundCloud or Bing or Samsung or Foursquare.

Doppelgangez at SXSW

3. Have your C-list email address handy for when you need to sign up for random shit. Be prepared for everyone you walk by to offer you a free app. Or branded chotchkies. Take what you want, leave the crap.

4. If celebrity sightings are your thing, scope out the theaters for premieres and bring your best camera. Film takes place March 7-15.

5. Music (March 11-15) is when the city gets a little dirty. If partying is your bag, head over to 6th Street or Red River for the thickest crowds and best people watching.

Be Prepared

6. Make sure you’ve got comfortable shoes! You’ll also want a shoulder bag (to fill with swag during Interactive) and all the crap you need to carry.

7. Obvious essentials: cash, cell phone charger, sunblock or sweatshirt (depending on the weather,) mints and chapstick. If you’re in it for the long haul, maybe stash a KIND bar or two.

Eco Light Garden at SXSW

8. Keep your eye out for free shows. Waterloo Records always has a full line-up. There’s a wealth of bands and parties available all over East Austin (and everywhere, really.) The key is to be aware of the most current information. How? Twitter! Here’s who I recommend following:

9. Lots of events will require an RSVP. The decision on whether to RSVP is yours, but I recommend it. (Use that C-list email address!) Many places won’t have an actual guest list, but are just looking to collect your information for their databases. RSVPing does NOT guarantee you entry into parties. You will wait in line with everyone else.

10. There are massive free events like Fader Fort which DO require an RSVP to get a wristband. Spots for these events are limited and draw some of the bigger bands, so it’s best to confirm your spot as early as possible. Other huge stages sponsored by companies like Doritos and Red Bull will ask for RSVPs, and you should go ahead and get those in as soon as possible, too.

11. Confused about the RSVPs? My tactic is to just sign up for everything I hear about. You can also use an RSVP service to do the dirty work for you. ATXShhh charges $5 and RSVPster has various levels of RSVPing in a pass format starting at $30.

SXSW

12. Keep up with the gossip. Sometimes it’s true and you run into Jimmy Kimmel at a barbecue truck. Sometimes you get burned by wasting an entire night at the supremely boring Austin Music Awards waiting for Johnny Depp to show up…and he doesn’t.

Roll with the Punches

13. Always have a backup plan. If you don’t make it into a show, have another one lined up. Plan 2-3 activities that you could be doing at once and try to minimize running from place to place. DO take petty cabs and promotional rides everywhere. Little electric golf carts sponsored by Netflix? Yes. Piggyback ride for guy dressed as Darth Vader? YES. Cram as much fun as you can into this epic ten day span, because it’ll be over before you know it and your fun memories will fade into a blur of South By’s past.

14. Don’t shy away from the big events. While it’s virtually impossible to get into the secret shows like Prince or Justin Timberlake, it does happen. Pull every string, use whatever connections you have, shamelessly promise anything to anyone. All you can do is try.

Austin Music Awards

Again, you want to live in the moment and enjoy where you are. You will see lots of crazy shit. You will hear a mind-boggling amount of great music. Don’t worry about what you’re missing. Just have fun!

Do you have any tips to share? Leave a comment!

Monday, December 30th

Resolutions for 2014

Here we are. At the end of 2013 already. It was quite a year, wasn’t it? Let’s do a quick review.

Bruno Mars

2013 was a year of music. We saw Pharrell and Justin Timberlake rose to the top again, as well as newcomers Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus were alternately loved and hated, as our fickle tastes violently swayed. Bruno Mars had a hell of a year and I was thrilled to catch him on tour. I also caught Book of Mormon and it lived up to the hype!

In living legend status updates, Woody Allen’s still got it and I got to meet Doyle Bramhall II.

Doyle Bramhall II

In 2013 we said farewell to James Gandolfini, The Office, 30 Rock, and Breaking Bad. But we got Arrested Development back. And Orange is the New Black blew our collective mind.

Breaking Bad

Personally, I had a big year, too. I stopped freelancing and started a new job. Then I was recruited for a bigger job. (Thank you, LinkedIn!) I got a new car. I served as the Education Chair for the Austin Food Blogger Alliance and organized a Photography Camp for the community. I met Fabio Viviani and contributed to his magazine. I was featured on a couple podcasts. I had a cup of coffee with a stranger and it turned into a wonderful friendship. I made lots of new friends actually. I took a break and went to Mexico. I threw myself into SXSW and fell more deeply in love with Austin.

Playa de Carmen

Austin went though some changes, too, by the way. Businesses closed. Businesses opened. The city got more crowded. The traffic got worse. The pizza got better. We got a Trader Joe’s! Pop-ups and supper clubs became the rage.

Bread & Circus Supper Club

Craft beer rose to a crescendo in Austin and Mr. Betty started his own blog to chronicle the beer scene and it has been wildly successful. My own blog is chugging along and continues to opens doors and satisfies my creative drive.

New Year

So what will the new year bring? Hopefully prosperity, good luck, and happiness. But also more opportunity for hard work and self betterment. I have a list of things I’d like to accomplish or at least start.

  • Get over my fear of Reddit. Maybe get a thicker skin in the larger sense.
  • Learn to code. I can’t put it off any longer.
  • Learn some design. It’s be nice to be able to scrap a little something together without hiring a graphic designer all the time.
  • Get ahead of my social media. Meaning I’ll make it more of a priority, rather than a “when I get to it” task.
  • Recycling this one from last year:  I resolve to live healthier. Eat more raw vegetables. Get more exercise. Get more sleep. Drink more water.

Happy New Year, everyone! Do you have any resolutions you’d like to share? Leave a comment.

Tuesday, December 10th

Pop Music in 2013

I love pop music

Countdown to the end of the year! It was a blink-and-you-missed-it year, but here’s a little something to remember it by. Check out Daniel Kim’s masterful pop mash-up of the best (and worst) of 2013.

For me, I’ll hold on to the Pharrell and Macklemore moments and try to forget about the Miley Cyrus and Ke$ha moments. What were your favorite pop moments of the year?

Wednesday, November 27th

The 20/20 Experience

The 20/20 Experience

Justin Timberlake puts out albums so infrequently that each one is a huge event. The sales are big, the hype is BIG, and the expectations are HIGH. The double project makes for Justin’s third and fourth studio albums, and like his second album, they were produced by Timbaland. And that’s where my first criticism lies…with Timbaland. With his decreasing relevancy and trademark insertion of his own vocals, it’s interesting that Justin chose to work with him again, when he could have had virtually anyone he wanted. I would have preferred Pharrell or Will.i.am, personally.

The first part of The 20/20 Experience was released in March. For those of us in Austin the excitement was all rolled up in Justin’s surprise appearance at SXSW, the secret MySpace party, and the general hysteria of trying to get in. (Note: I opened a MySpace account specifically to be entered into the random lottery for the party and no, I did not get in.) The singles “Suit & Tie,” “Mirrors,” and “Tunnel Vision” are all catchy and classic Timberlake. The former features another Timbaland hallmark, an awkward intro that feels like an entirely different song. Timbaland often tacks these onto the end of his songs, as well.

The big band/jazzy theme is mostly just visual, rather than musical. Dapper suits and tuxes? Check. Sharp dance moves? Check. Black and white color palette? Check. Full sound of horns? Nay.

Justin Timberlake black and white photo

Beyond the singles, there are a couple standout tunes. “Pusher Love Girl,” which compares love to drugs is infectious fun, if too long at eight minutes. “Strawberry Bubblegum,” (my personal favorite) is a little tribute to Barry White with it’s candy-themed sensual lyrics, again lasting about eight minutes. “Don’t Hold the Wall” is a dark dance groove clocking in at over seven minutes. So yes, the songs are all long.

The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 is the weaker of the albums. Again the songs drag on, but this second grouping feels like so much filler with “Take Back the Night” as the only true highlight. “Drink You Away” is pleasant enough and “TKO” is a generic single with is neither interesting lyrically or musically.

My takeaway is this: If you remove the filler, you have one solid album of decent music here. The decision to release two albums in six months time feels more like hype-building than an expression of musicianship. It’s a shame that Justin seems more passionate in pursuing a career in acting, because his real talent lies in his singing. But he’s placed it on the back burner and reserves his enthusiasm for SNL and Jimmy Fallon appearances.

Omeletteville sketch with Justin Timberlake and Chris Parnell

Monday, October 28th

The Edible Space Oddity

My regular readers might remember the fabulous Nina Simone-themed dinner I had last spring. If you missed it, you can read about my first L’Oca D’Oro experience here.

David Bowie

I recently made a return visit for a David Bowie night. The music was great. A diverse mix of Bowie covers and plenty from the legend himself, including lots of live stuff. The Bowie footage that was projected on the wall was distorted and appropriately weird. It really help set the tone for the night.

L'Oca D'Oro David Bowie

L'Oca D'Oro David Bowie

The night began like a casual cocktail party. We sipped Tang daiquiris and nibbled on bread and butters while we mingled. The first course was Space Oddity, a scallop crudo with key lime curd and banana. It was indeed an oddity, the mix of flavors and textures that shouldn’t work together, but did.

L'Oca D'Oro David Bowie

L'Oca D'Oro David Bowie

The second course was a study in texture. Carrots, carrot powder, potatoes, sparkles, sauces and smoke, the Ziggy Stardust was interesting and delicate. Thinking back on it later, it would have been so easy to incorporate “dust” into a dessert, cashing in on the popular soil craze so many places are doing. But they don’t do anything easy at L’Oca D’Oro. There are no shortcuts. There is so much thought and effort and creativity in these dinners. Each night is a unique labor of love.

L'Oca D'Oro David Bowie

The Station to Station course was all about refueling for the space journey. The fresh tagliatelle was topped with a lamb ragù, five minute egg, and a steaming cup of lamp jus on the side. I ate this dish so slowly, savoring every bite. It look me back to my favorite restaurant in Florence, where I delighted over tangled piles of tagliatelle and meaty sauces.

L'Oca D'Oro David Bowie

The last savory dish was titled Scary Monsters. The octopus was a delicious, tender, scary monster. The last time I had an octopod cooked this well was the squid on my previous L’Oca D’Oro visit. Octopus, like squid, is one of those ingredients that is wonderful or horrible, depending on how it’s cooked. It’s ridiculous how often people get it wrong. But this version, grilled and served with beets and white anchovies was so very right. I think it was my favorite course.

L'Oca D'Oro David Bowie

I’m not usually one for overly creative desserts. I find they can be unsatisfying (see the aforementioned soil) and ridiculous. I’d rather see the classics really well done. But this. THIS. Knocked my socks off. Served on a mirror, the pear sashimi and bitter chocolate were surrounded by sunchoke purée, taleggio cream, and a ton of other things that I can no longer remember. Sweet and sour pecans provided crunch. Each interesting bite was different. This dessert was just damn fun.

L'Oca D'Oro David Bowie

I suggest checking out the L’Oca D’Oro website, finding some music you like, and buying your tickets. This is one of the most special culinary experiences happening in Austin right now and you don’t want to miss it.

Thanks for another rockin’ evening, L’Oca D’Oro!