I thought I would write a thing about the songs I have been enjoying most this year, because I am going crazy right now with nothing analytical to write (lol life post-graduation). Maybe this will become a regular 'thing'.
So, a few of my faves of 2010 so far, in vaguely chronological order:
Charlotte Gainsbourg - "Master's Hands" (from the album IRM)
Fresh off her award-winning turn at Cannes in Lars Von Trier's brilliant movie Antichrist, Charlotte Gainsbourg released this album -- written almost entirely by Beck -- in January (in the USA, at least; technically this is a 2009 album overseas). I'm not a Beck fan, really, but this album has some real standouts, and he really knows how to write for Gainsbourg's weird little girl lost voice in a way that makes it both relatable and haunting. "Master's Hands" is a powerful piece of songwriting, with Gainsbourg's insistent whispers demanding answers from a distant but omnipotent God, asking for a reason to live. In the hands of any other artist, this song could come across as weak slam poetry, but in Gainsbourg's care it becomes a sort of breathless chant, an affirmation of human agency and free will.
The Knife - "Annie's Box" (from the album Tomorrow, In A Year) Tomorrow, In A Year, The Knife's electronic opera about the life and work of Charles Darwin, was a really polarizing album when it hit early this year. I absolutely loved it, but a lot of people found it impenetrable and strange. What everyone could agree on was that the best song on it was unquestionably "Colouring Of Pigeons", one of the best things The Knife has ever created. That track was released as a single in 2009, though, so let's talk about the album track "Annie's Box", an amazingly powerful little song that sets the stage for "Colouring" and the rest of Act 2's bombastic conclusion to Act 1's slow, ponderous evolution. "Annie's Box" uses actual text from one of Darwin's letters about his daughter Annie, who died at the age of ten. The soundscape is one of despair, ghosts, and far-off whistles. It's incredibly introspective, and the vocals seem to come almost out of nowhere to rattle around in the back of your skull. The Alternate Vocal version on the album with vocals by Karin Dreijer Andersson (aka Fever Ray, the usual vocalist for The Knife) is my preference, but the regular album track with the opera vocals is equally great.
Goldfrapp - "Rocket" (from the album "Head First")
This glitter-slathered lead single was an enormous relief to me after Seventh Tree, Goldfrapp's previous album, which was an interesting digression but overall pretty dull after the Studio 54 thrills of Supernature. "Rocket" is a return to electro-dance form, but is definitely a different sensation from the icy nu-disco that Supernature did so well. This is a distinctly 80s pastiche, as is the trend right now in pop music, but it manages to remain fresh and futuristic: the experience is kind of like Olivia Newton-John taking you along on an outer space road trip. Ostensibly about ditching a cheating partner and shooting him or her into space, the lyrics of "Rocket" seem to wink at unconfirmed reports of Allison Goldfrapp's lesbianism: the whole song can really be read as an extended ode to the strap-on. On either level, it's a great little song; the Richard X One Zero Remix, included on the single release, is even better.
Dominique Young Unique - "Show My Ass" (from the EP Blaster)
Nicki Minaj better look out. This 19 year-old from Tampa is the female MC to watch right now. With a really distinctive and interesting flow, Dominique whips out rhymes at lightspeed, all the while chirping in a high-pitched voice that sounds more head cheerleader than Queen Bee. It's refreshing to see someone so young -- and a female rapper at that, a type of performer that gets very little support -- putting out a track this -good- for her debut foray into the business. The track starts with a greeting: "hello world," she says, the smirk obvious in her voice, and it's clear that this girl means business and is here to stay. Cocky without being arrogant, cute without being cloying, she's a real shot in the arm. The song itself is a masterpiece of production, transitioning easily from step team hand-claps to a glamorous electronic club beat finish; when it's over, you wish there was more. I like the whole Blaster EP and I am excited to see Dominique's first full-length album, whenever it drops. Check the video if you can: her clothes are to die for.
Janelle MonÃ¡e - "Oh, Maker" (from the album The ArchAndroid: Suites II and III)
Picking one track from this nigh-perfect album is really hard, but everyone and their mother is talking about "Tightrope" so I figured I would highlight another track that just blows me away. It's light and beautiful, but with the sort of ominous menace that pervades the whole record (it's a concept album about a futuristic android police state). Beginning as a sort of folk song about a lost love, with very simple and lovely vocal phrasing, it evolves into a jaunty funk-infused march before becoming a pained wail that really illustrates MonÃ¡e's honest-to-god vocal chops. The vocal runs after she asks her Maker if he has ever loved -- or even understood love -- are breathtaking. She's speaking as her android character to a literal Maker, of course, but it's pretty easy to extrapolate this to a universal human experience -- and really, that's what a good concept album should do. Really, though, singling out one track feels like missing the point; this album is meant to be enjoyed as a full piece of art. I think it's the album of the year.
Robyn - "Cry When You Get Older" (from the album Body Talk Pt. 1)
If Vitamin C had never heard Pachelbel's Canon in D Major and was a thousand times cooler, she would have written this song instead of "Graduation (Friends Forever)". One hopes this will take its place as the high school graduation song of choice. Built as a sort of big sister advice song, "Cry When You Get Older" displays Swedish pop wild child Robyn Carlsson doing what she does best: crafting effortlessly catchy melodies while exhibiting a frankness rarely found in the coquettish, image-obsessed world of dance-pop. It's honest, exhilarating, and brilliantly composed, with a willfully wry attitude toward the passions of the teenage experience. 'Love hurts when you do it right / you can cry when you get older.' I wish I'd had this song when I was sixteen, let me tell you.
Laurie Anderson - "Only An Expert" (from the album Homeland)
Laurie Anderson is one of the most important electronic musicians of all time, though these days (and to my generation) she is probably more famous for being Mrs. Lou Reed. While in my opinion subsequent work has never reached the heights of her early 80s performance piece United States (featuring "O Superman"), this new album comes pretty close and is just phenomenal overall. "Only An Expert" is my favorite track; it is a condemnation of the American tendency to sit on our hands and refuse to do anything because clearly only scientists and experts and politicians and economists and whatnot should be working on solving problems. It's arranged in such a way that it sounds like a news feed or the sonic equivalent of a twitter conversation; really interesting stuff. Her live performance on Letterman this week was pretty cool -- you can probably find it via Google -- but the studio track on the album is sublime.
Scissor Sisters - "Invisible Light" (from the album Night Work)
Scissor Sisters is a band that can be really hit-or-miss for me. Their eponymous debut album was a fabulous piece of retro-70s gay dance pop, but sophomore effort Tah-Dah really missed the mark. On Night Work they have moved beyond their initial 70s aesthetic to a very 80s sound, and in the process they've apparently decided to stop trying to be majority-accessible and start making unquestionably -gay- music. There are certainly other gay artists right now making very gay music (Hunx And His Punx come to mind immediately) but most of them are underground. Not since Pet Shop Boys has a big name band with a male lead vocalist made music this unapologetically -gay-. That is to say, this is not Queer As Folk-style vicarious gay thrills made accessible for straight people. So really, that's pretty cool. "Invisible Light" is the last track on Night Work, and is sort of the climax to the dirty 80s gay-dance feel of the whole record. The culmination of all the tension built up by earlier tracks like "Harder You Get" (a Judas Priest-style leather daddy anthem), "Invisible Light" opens with Biblical allusion and becomes a sort of giant synthesizer orgasm with -- in perhaps the most hilarious callback to the 80s, recalling Vincent Price's voice-over in "Thriller" and a number of Madonna pieces -- a spoken word portion performed by Sir Ian MacKellan.
BjÃ¶rk and Dirty Projectors - "Sharing Orb" (from the album Mount Wittenberg Orca)
Just so we are clear: this is a concept album about whale-watching. BjÃ¶rk sings from the perspective of a whale for the entire record. Somehow instead of being incredibly stupid this is ineffably beautiful, and nowhere is it better than on "Sharing Orb", the track that most perfectly evokes the feeling of the sea, with BjÃ¶rk making all sorts of beautiful animal noises -- sometimes it's hard to tell where the whales begin and where the seabirds end, but all of it is stylized and gorgeous, and you definitely feel the energy of the ocean view from the mountain. Meanwhile, the lyrics are stunning. I'm not sure any lyric I've heard this year packs the visceral punch of 'come into my home / murder my family'.
Like ELP but more accenty. My favorite part is how hilariously buried the vocals get. They must have sent the singer out on a beer run during mixing. Also its like the clickiest damn organ I've ever heard.
edit: more, and better IMO, almost got a Beatley vibe going:
It's still uncomfortable to read, as if it is so fascinating that it sounds gay. It's analogous to describing soul as being black repeatedly or something.
I am a gay man so this is not like 'gay fascination' on my part. If you don't think that gay dance music is a genre with a long and storied history idk what to tell you, but I think lots of musicians both past and present would disagree. Scissor Sisters is specifically touching on that legacy with "Night Work". It is an unapologetically queer record that is pretty astonishing from a mainstream band on a major label.
Originally Posted by Superfrequency
Originally Posted by eleusiswalks
this is not Queer As Folk-style vicarious gay thrills made accessible for straight people.
Flamboyant gay guys being well known for their incrediblesubtlety.
Where did I say anything about subtlety? "Night Work" is anything but -subtle-. I'm just saying this is a record steeped in gay underground culture, created by a gay male bandleader and directed at a queer audience. It is therefore the opposite of the exact kind of 'gay fascination' for straight people that you were talking about -- which is defined by QaF, to me, though I suppose Will and Grace is the more -obvious- example.