Sunday, 5 September 2010

Top 10 tracks of August 2010.

This month I felt a little underwhelmed by a lot of new music. I felt a lot of what I heard this month cruised along on the tried and tested formulas of the summer, from the endless and interchangeable balearic indie/dreamwave acts to the sticky teen-bubblegum that ruled the charts. Katy Perry's cotton candy scented (quite literally) sophomore effort is a standard in chart pop: a scattering of fantastic pop nuggets that satisfy like vanilla fudge, dampened by filler that fails to excite the taste buds. In other news, Arcade Fire's "Suburbs" was a grower rather than a show-er, and the Klaxons was a show-er rather than a grower and The Saturday EP sucked balls.


Just kidding.

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Unlikely Hero
The Hoosiers

The Hoosiers are a band that seems to take great satisfaction in pushing the boundaries of all that is irritating, nigh on excruciating within the pop and rock genres. Whilst prior hits such as the unnervingly chirpy "She's So Lovely" had a kind of indie sensibility that helped them blend, The Illusion of Safety is a record that is unashamedly cheesy in a way that the likes of guilty pleasures HelloGoodbye and Metro Station can only half bake. Sometimes they take it too far, as shown on "Glorious", which has to be heard to be believed, but the hook laden powerpop of "Unlikely Hero" and all its dramatic progpop synth slabs and heroic falsetto flourishes, make it nothing less than either irresistible or unbearable on the first listen. And there's no middle ground, and I'm all for music like that.

Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)
Katy Perry

Lyrically, this is essentially a less ZIP code specific rewrite of her magnificent "Waking Up in Vegas"; musically it's much less scruffy college drop-out, wondering where it all went wrong, and more of an off-the-rails, glitter-pretty, teens-coming-of-age naivety anthem. Unclear whether it wants to rock out or not, "Last Friday Night" opts to cruise carefully to avoid arrest rather than making a run for it, but in the process develops a charming innocence that makes it easy to forgive all the track's, and indeed the album's, gaping flaws and vacuous melodies. Throwing around phrases like "epic fail" in a pop song cry out 'wannabe', but, much like the characters described in this song, dancing on tables and doing too many shots, you just laugh and roll your eyes lovingly at its failed attempts to be 'cool'. Dunno what the saxophone solo is about though.

We Used to Wait
Arcade Fire

One of the most recognisable sounds heard on the new Arcade Fire record, the flashing piano of "We Used to Wait" instantly recalls LCD Soundsystem's iconic "All My Friends". But whilst "All My Friends" managed to build up to a legendary emotional arrest without doing a hell of a lot, "We Used to Wait" does lots of little things and hints at a climax several times before shying away from the idea as the song drops gracefully out. It's dark, but comforting, distant, but somehow epic. In short, like most of "The Suburbs", it's perfectly formed, has a subtle depth, is well thought out, and is blissful to experience.

But if the music alone isn't "experience" enough for you, visit this interactive website made especially for the song. Or maybe it just uses the song, I'm not sure. Whatever, it's fun:

Low Shoulder
Toro Y Moi

Yea, it’s some lo fi synthy pop for a chance. HOWEVER - Dreamy Toro Y Moi might be lo fi and nostalgic, but "Low Shoulder" just oozes groove and glamour. The 80s sex synths are far from classy, but that's what makes them irresistible. Even the title hints at some cult dance move, and the ricocheting piano chords give the track an air of balearic chillout. It’s all sweet and uplifting stuff, until you see the video and begin to hear all kinds of dark omens amidst the cheery hands-in-the-air vibes.

Chad Valley

Oh look, more glo fi. HOWEVER - This guy needs to put together an album pretty damn soon, whilst the summer is gradually fizzling out. “Anything” is sunswept and spacious, drooling lustfully after the Ibiza post-rave of the late 1990s, autotune lacing the delirious and delightful vocal line. Clunky bass-lines and underwater beats are the tide coming in as Chad Valley project master Hugo Manuel implores “I’ll do anything” as the word loops endlessly until the shoreline catches up and his voice is immersed. Nothing else soundtracks the end of the summer with more gusto.

Missing You
The Saturdays

It’s quite funny that although the vocal bookend yet illegally pretty Frankie finally has a lead vocal in “Missing You”, it’s torn apart and put back together again by good old autotune. However, whilst the other girls sound angry, snide and perhaps slightly dangerous in the apocalyptic chorus, Frankie’s robot-tinkerbell voice embodies what this song is really about: The effortless control and emotional sadism within destructive relationships. And all Frankie does is lick her lips and whisper a few lines that taunt her lover, and effectively emasculate him. A “What have you done for me lately?” track if you will, although it seems that what this guy hasn’t been doing is actually pretty acceptable stuff. But if the Saturdays need a guy to treat them like shit to keep a relationship exciting, you know, whatever. At the end of the day, this is a cracking tune and the subject matter keeps things spicy in a way that most pop bands would shy away from.

Everything You Wanted (Fred Falke Remix)

The Boxer felt unfinished and unsatisfying. Without his band to add melody to his obsessive funky house tendencies, Kele churned out idea after idea at the expensive of tune and memorability. But good old Fred Falke, a sturdy, reliable fella, did the job of Kele’s melodic assistant as well as his band ever did, although through a totally different medium that really DOES give us everything we wanted, and indeed more. The chorus is a euphoric slammer that suggests whoever turned Kele down is surely now kicking themselves. It’s refreshing to see how when applied to the right song, all the typical uplifting house clich├ęs can give a simple melody life that the even the writer never dreamed it could. Turning “Everything You Wanted” from difficult to danceable, this is one of my favourite remixes of the year.


Your Love
Nicki Minaj

Nicki Minaj – The self-proclaimed Freddy Krueger of female rap. A tongue of steel, and a practically rabid sense of flow and imagination... a “crazy bitch” if you will. Forget everything you know about her however: Ms Minaj has a heart. True, she can’t keep her words sweet and adoring for more than a few seconds at a time, smarting thoughtful phrases such as “I think I met him in the sky, when I was a Geisha, he was a Samurai” with the sharp and the edgy such as the genius “Through your loving imma die hard like Bruce Willis”. But of course that quirkily beautiful Annie Lennox sample keeps things sweet enough for Nicki to express love in her own unique way.

Teenage Dream
Katy Perry

Katy Perry has her own snug place in the US pop world. Somewhere between an American Idol and Ke$ha’s drunken slag persona, and all of a sudden Katy Perry is a cheeky role model who can get away with just about anything. A blink of those gorgeous blue eyes and it doesn’t matter that she kisses girls, squirts whipped cream from her nipples or gets drunk on beaches (if Ke$ha does any of that, she’s just dirty). It’s the songs though. When Ms Perry (yes, she’s still Ms Perry Russell) shoots, she scores spectacularly. “Teenage Dream” simply is every pop song you’ve ever heard that warms your heart, that makes you want to bunk off work and go to the beach, to go clubbing when you have work at 8am the next day, to do things that make you feel naughty, irresponsible and YOUNG. Yes it’s a love song, but not necessarily to another person... it’s a love song to itself. This song makes you feel like you’re living a teenage dream. Don’t ever look back.


Tyler, The Creator!

I confess I don’t know exactly when this was released this year, or if it wasn’t even indeed released last year. But I came across the 18 year old West Coast rapper Tyler this month, and therefore I am going to use that as a weak excuse to mention him here.

Despite loving the rest of the songs on this list, Tyler is the only artist that has really affected me deeply this month. I’m not the most informed of Hip Hop listeners, but after hearing “The Slim Shady LP” in 1999 “The Marshall Mathers LP” in 2000, I didn’t believe any other records could be as engaging, and downright disturbing as this disturbing duo. 10 years on and it seems I’ve found another rapper who has made me sit up and pay attention. Eminem has nothing interesting to say these days, so it’s refreshing to hear

Whilst Eminem uses a whole album to hint at his fucked up mindset and grotesque fantasies, Tyler bares his entire soul in 6 minutes with “Bastard”, the titular and opening track to his astounding full length mix tape. It’s his “My Name Is...” but there’s an unsettling lack of humour here, or if there is, it’s the blackest of black. There’s also an unsettling lack of something else... a beat. The track revolves around a morose piano loop that plods like a funeral march as Tyler pulls no punches in spilling brutally honest confessions, like vomit propelled from his body during an exorcism. It’s no surprise the track is contextualised within a counselling session.

But some of the content here is beyond consolation. Tyler’s raps are deliberately clumsy, pointedly unpretentious, straight faced and shocking. He lines up the vague “this is what the devil plays before he goes to sleep” as a warning before launching into “I cut my wrists and play piano ‘cause I’m so depressed”. He uses wry humour elsewhere; “Life’s a salad, Imma going to toss it”, but sometimes you’re not sure if he’s joking; “My wrist is all red from the cutter, dripping cold blood like the winter, the summer”. He isn’t scared of seeming human and vulnerable, and despite the horrific confessions, there’s something endearing about his youth: He even seems scared at times, as hard as he tries to hide it. He loves his mother and confesses to needing a hug at times. Sweetheart.

And yet, he dares us to “take this shit to school” and “play this shit at church”. He displays a defiant sense of self worth one moment, “I am Legend”/“I’m more talented than 40 year old rappers talking ‘bout Gucci” before launching into tirades of self-loathing the next: “I want to fucking kill me”. He frequently mentions the death of his father, and finishes with the best closing line of a song in living memory: “I wish I knew my father’s email so I could tell him how much I fucking hate him in de-tail”. That’s an email I’d like to read. Oh wait... he writes it in “Seven”. Check that out too. In fact, just check out the whole record. Never before has 15 tracks and 55 minutes seemed so short.

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