Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Pop by any other name would smell as sweet.

I've got a real sweet tooth. Friday night, for example, I ate 10 Rocky bars - Hardcore. I'm generally the same with my music. A good hook gets me addicted, whether it be a vocal ad-lib or a slab of big synth chords in my face, even the odd keyboard solo. Yes, I can take a lot of the sweet stuff. Pop music might be sickly to some, but I just pile on the syrup.

But in the last couple of months I've been wondering (hell, I've been wondering for the past year), exactly where pop music can go from here. Any artist that tries for commercial success by following current trends, i.e. flaccid urband beats, squelchy electronic basslines and nintendo synths, is happy to retreat 2009's footsteps rather than progress. Even recent enjoyable examples such as Kelly Rowland's Guetta banger "Commander" and Katy Perry's giddy Tik Tok ripoff "California Gurls" seem like lucky strikes rather than inspired and creative songwriting. Although I fear I am his sole supporter amongst critics, I really thought Owl City could pull pop music into a new, happy-go-lucky, blissfully innocent phase in 2010, but now he's failed to make the impact I'd hoped for, I don't really know where to turn.

Or at least I didn't. The lack of interesting pop hits (and the downright offensive; JLS's "The Club is Alive" nearly gave me a hernia) drove me into the unwelcoming arms of less commercial music - The kind I would previously pick and mix my way through, selecting the soft, fuzzy marshmellow stuff over all that was fizzy, sour and chewy.

But it seemed that the music heralded by the likes of NME, Pitchfork and Drowned in Sound was suddenly sweeter than ever. In fact, in comparison to the dull, tasteless likes of Timbaland and Christina Aguilera (whose "Bionic" is in a league of its own for worst record of the year), this indie and alternative music was finally offering the right blend of sweet and bitter. I guess I was sick of satisfying my sweet tooth - Any more sugar and it would undoubtedly rot.

So band by band, my iPod was transformed. Gone was Gaga, no longer bonkers for Dizzee, and no more flashbacks to Calvin Harris. Instead, along came The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, whose nihilistic attitude and razor sharp guitars were undercut by an irrestistable sweetness in the melodies, a combination well represented by their elaborate name.

Crystal Castles also finally crashed into my life, screaming and kicking, with an innocent, unprepared purchase of their sophomore record. Like raving with bloodthirsty zombies, they took blippy synthpop and polished eurodance and ripped through it like a baby alien clawing its way out of your chest. How I can still bring myself to call their music beautiful and euphoric makes no sense, but it really is.

A scattering of incredible pop-tinged, unclassifiable music also came my way at all angles. A band named Elite Gymnastics made the most delirious, dark dance track in living memory in the form of "Is This On Me?", proving that pitch shifted chipmunk vocals need not always be anathema.

An enthusiastic indie dance act called Visitor packed love, hooks and emotion into a very intense four minutes of glorious cheese entitled "Los Feeling" - finally, a band that GETS me!

...and Beach House, oh Beach House, with your windswept love-songs-that-might-not-actually-be-love-songs; when I heard "Norway", it broke my heart every time I heard it and then proceeded to get stuck in my head. I would sing it loudly whilst choking on my tears on public transport. It was a tough week after that first listen.

All these bands know how to write a beautiful melody, a catchy tune and an addictive hook much better than any big current name you could care to mention. So why aren't they the names on everybody's lips?

Because those lips like to taste the same flavours every time. Beach House, Pains of Being Pure, Crystal Castles, even the slightly irritating Drums... these bands have the tunes, but they aren't bound by the need for success that so many major artists give into. They do it their way, and use what the hell sounds they want. If only the diabetic music buyers could hear their beloved polished turds without the trickery, obnoxiously loud mix and glamourous videos: they would see where the real talent for pop music lies. Or at least where it doesn't.

I'll conclude with my new favourite band. A side project of the aforementioned Pains of Being Pure at Heart, the blissful Depreciation Guild have even more in common with My Bloody Valentine than their rebellious older brother, but somehow, through a heartbreaking combination of romantic clean guitars, daydreaming vocals and poppy beats, they emerge closer to my heart than either of those bands, at least they do this week. Here's "Dream About Me". Adieu.

No comments:

Post a Comment