robyn

The Playlist: Q1 2014

There is a clubnight which exists only in the space between my headphones and spinal cord. Where people dance all night, even to the songs you can’t really dance to. For the months of January, February and March 2014, this was that club’s setlist. Charli XCX – SuperLove This passed me by first time around, until Sam ‘Afternoon Delight’ Willet chucked it my way on Facebook. And ka-clunk, it was the soundtrack to the next month of my life. And look, I talk about the imaginary clubnight, but this was the one song that made me want to actually take my creaky, clumsy body out and find a dancefloor where it’s playing. Every time I hear it, I want to grab the right friends just as it kicks in and shout the wrong words and debut the private macarena I’ve been practicing in bathroom mirrors. And mouthing “I think your hair looks much better pushed over to one side/How do you feel about me?” to my reflection in a particularly shiny shop window, I’ve caught myself figuring out exactly how much work it would be to set up that clubnight for real. Belle & Sebastian – Suicide Girl I love when Belle & Sebastian talk dirty.  Suicide Girl – which I first encountered on their rather uneven collection of B-sides and rarities The Third Eye Centre – takes the typical brittle indie-boy unrequited romance and reconfigures it into something more physical. The song asks the age-old question: Would you photograph your crush naked so the pictures could uploaded onto the internet for the enjoyment of strangers? “Once she takes off her clothes, we’ll never be the same again”, the song concludes as it reaches an all-too-sudden climax, just two and a half minutes in. Well, quite. Joanna Gruesome – Secret Surprise A song that sounds like it could be taking place inside someone’s chest cavity. Whether sweely whispering or all-out screaming or divebombing between the two, Alanna McArdle’s vocals constantly draw attention to the breath each line is using up. The drum is a basic pounding heartbeat, building to a minor attack by the end of the track. Each stab of guitar is like a shudder running up your spine, the whole messy thing echoing off the inner walls of your ribcage. Secret Surprise takes that all-too-familiar unrequited love subgenre and flips it so our protagonist is the object, rather than the subject. Or, maybe it’s an entry in the fairly new suffocating-your-other-half-with-a-pillow-while-they-sleep subgenre. Broken Bells – Holding On for Life/St. Vincent – Digital Witness Two songs for which I have to thank the BBC Radio 6Music playlist. Remarkably, despite 6Music being my office’s station of choice, meaning while they were playlisted I heard these tracks three or four times a day without any choice in the matter, neither has really worn out its welcome. It helps, I think, that they both sound slightly alien in their own way, whether it’s Holding On for Life‘s pitch-shifted Beegees chorus or the bits of Digital Witness that sound like they’re being played backwards. Sophie – Bipp The lyrical heart of Bipp, “I can make you feel better”, is half a promise being made by the narrator to you, the lover, and half a contract the song is making with you, the listener. A few dozen listens in, it’s a guarantee Sophie is yet to break. Johnny Foreigner – In CapitalsIn Capitals has me reaching for the toolbox of music journalism clichés. It’s an absolute Frankenstein of a song, pieced together from scraps of four or five other half-songs. It’s a rollercoaster of a song, repeatedly climbing to a peak, sitting on the ledge just for a moment, then plunging down, slowing and starting over. It’s a finely-tuned firework display of a song, a series of little explosions, big and small, working in perfect concert. Just because I can’t talk about it adequately doesn’t mean the song isn’t great, mind. Ibibio Sound Machine – Let’s Dance (Yak Inek Unek)“1, 2, 3, 4. Let’s dance.” As far as I can tell, those are the only English words in the whole track. Frankly – and this would be the case even if the rest wasn’t in Nigerian Ibibio – they’re the only ones that matter. I’m a sucker for songs that are this explicitly instructive, as long as they’ve got the beat to back it up. And this really, really does. 1. 2. 3. 4… Chromatics – LadyListening to Lady, I sometimes feel like I can hear through the song itself to the instruments it’s made out of, great fictional instruments which fill the sewer systems of entire cities, which were built at great human cost, entirely for the purpose of making an androgynous love song and giving me something to dance to when I’m in the flat on my own. I don’t know about you, but I like that kind of arrogance in my synthpop. Neneh Cherry feat Robyn – Out of the BlackRobyn’s the reason I listened to Out of the Black enough to put it on this list (I just miss her, that’s all), but she’s not the star. Honestly, she might be the weak link. I love the way her voice braids with Neneh’s on the chorus, but the way she delivers some lines (“I’m Robyn on the microphone, into the speaker”) is actually quite ugly. No, the star here is that beat, sneaking, oppressive, a shadow looming in your peripherals. Delicious. Burial – HidersHaving read some reviews of last year’s Rival Dealer EP, Hiders seems to be consistently singled out for its accessible. Or, if it’s that kind of publication, a bit too pop. A bit tacky. It’s probably no coincidence, then, that’s it the first Burial track to make any real impression on me. There are moments throughout where Hiders constantly threatens to crystallise into a spectral pop song, before moving on, shedding the skin of the last hook to drop in a new voice, a new sample, some environmental sound tweaked just so. By doing that, it manages to […]

2010: The Third Quarter – Musik

Christina Aguilera – Bionic Sometimes, I think that famous British prudishness is misunderstood. It’s not that we’re scared to hear about sex – not the generation I know – it’s just that we’ve heard it all before and it’s not that shocking. I remember the weekend papers when Bionic came out. They all sang the same couple of tunes: yes, Christina likes sex, we get it / cor, Christina ain’t half ripping off Lady Gaga. Two months later, The Times published a ‘demolishing’ analysis of that Lady Gaga. The central thesis of which was: Gaga’s not sexy enough. Which is ridiculous, of course. Pop doesn’t have to be sexy. Gaga’s the girl you never think to ask if she’s ever had sex, let alone with who or what. Xtina is the girl at the party with nothing else to talk about. Songs as subtle as Sex for Breakfast, lyrics as nuanced as “when the morning comes/I know I will too”. And so, naturally, the British press looked up her up and down, and shook their heads disapprovingly. Not with the horror of broken taboos, but with boredom. And all this is true, and fair, and it whirrs around my head every time I stick the album on (which has been surprisingly often the last few months), but it doesn’t matter. Because the girl has some interesting friends, and she’s brought them with her. The MIA song is the best MIA song of the year; Nicki Minaj infects Woohoo with Minaj-ness, and makes that ridiculous oversexualisation work. But most importantly, it just sounds gorgeous. Turned up loud enough, you can feel the shapes of the music. Of course, it all comes crashing down by the end, when the album strays into attempted seriousness, and the accompanying ballads. But that first half: it might be shallow, it may lack nutrition, but it just sounds so good. Pop doesn’t have to be sexy. This album isn’t shocking and it isn’t sexy. But, hey, this is pop music. Words don’t matter, right? Xiu Xiu – Dear God I Hate Myself I’ve never gotten Xiu Xiu before, but Miles ‘Tails’ Bradley informs me this is their Pop album. And, well… that title. That’s all you need, really. That’s pure Pop. I played the title track to Liv one drunken Sunday afternoon, in endless rotation between California Gurls and Mystery Jets’ Flash A Hungry Smile and it just fitted in perfectly. The overblown melodrama is giggle-worthy, to hear someone cutting all the indirect subtextual crap and just singing ‘dear God I hate myself’ as a chorus. But like the best Pop, it also manages to take you in, and make you feel it. And then titles as light and friendly as Chocolate Makes You Happy encourage quiet giggles in a different way. But there’s always something underneath, something savage with glinting eye. Pop. Best Coast – Crazy for You Girl loves boy. Girl loves weed. Oh gosh how she loves both these things. As many times as I listen to it, this album remains essentially a half-hour of just Boyfriend in my mind. Which isn’t a bad thing, and is probably fitting, given that this is the musical equivalent of a stoner movie. But … good, like. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left-Foot Guaranteed to add an extra 30% of swagger to whatever you’re doing while it plays. Mystery Jets – Serotonin & The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs Grouped because they are each other’s evil twin. Both are albums of pretty music that can be dialled down and left to settle into the background and the back of your mind. The difference is that Serotonin makes that into a virtue. It’s easy listening in the Belle & Sebastian sense, the kind where you spot your fingers creeping towards the volume dial, catch yourself singing along half-way through a song. Whereas Suburbs is easy to forget. It’s easy not to notice that it’s on. Occasionally something will snag your attention and you’ll wake up, with no idea where you are in the album, or which songs have slipped by unnoticed. The album occasionally hits on a typically great Arcade Fire lyric: “watching the end of the world on a badly compressed “ or a great song. Sprawl II is absolutely stellar, a contender for best Arcade Fire song. It’s possibly telling, though, that it is the one song that doesn’t sound like the others. It barely even sounds like Arcade Fire at all. With the Regine-led vocals and pulsing synths-y electro beat at its heart, it could almost be a Knife song. But to steal a line from my handsome comrade Mr Christopher Sparrow, the album is less than the sum of its parts, somehow. I like the album a lot more than on first listen. Being able to buy it for £1 helped a lot. A lot of people – some of whom I trust, many who I don’t – have raved about this album, and so I keep listening and waiting. I’m still waiting on a metamorphosis. Maybe it won’t come, maybe it will, one day. Whereas Serotonin comes on sexy straight away, muttering in your ear. It’s a continuation of the Jets’ journey into an imaginary universe where it was ’80s pop still roams the earth, unchallenged. It’s polished, crowd-pleasing stuff, with just enough Mystery Jets flair and eccentricity to keep it recognisable as, y’know, something the NME would talk about. The passion’s beginning to fade a little, I think, and it’s possible our time together is coming to an end. Maybe by year’s end I’ll feel the opposite way about these two albums. We’ll see. Robyn – Body Talk Pt 2 Which is, of course, just great. It’s more Robyn, in a year full of Robyn (though not full enough: I’m indignant about the news that Part 3 is set to be half greatest-hits, with only five new songs). Nevertheless, this is a brilliant way to do pop music. Releasing three albums […]

2010: The Second Quarter – Music

Welcome back to the internet’s most glacially regular feature. I talk about what’s been dominating the last three months, culturally. Not reviews as much as thoughts. It’s half a way of getting to talk about everything I might possibly want to, half a way of keeping track of what’s going on at the moment. Please, recommend, and help make the next one. Musically, April was pretty heavily dictated by what I was writing my 30 Days on. Which remains, in the months that I finished my degree, handed over responsibilities at Redbrick and prepared to face the big bad world, and moved house, probably the most important anything has felt to me. The panic at 11 o’clock the nights I hadn’t written an entry yet… But since, then I have gone seeking the hott new stuff, and I haven’t been disappointed. The year has been pretty sexy so far, musically. But it wasn’t always so… Laura Marling – I Speak Because I CanAlbum #2. That’s nearly that all that needs to be said about I Speak Because I Can. I haven’t read many reviews of it, but I reckon a lot will have leant on the old Difficult Second Album cliché. It’s just not as compelling as Alas I Cannot Swim, lyrically or musically. I could try and pick apart why: less tricks up Marling’s sleeve, a shift in tone, a generic move into more trad.country territory. But it’s actually a bit exhausting to try and pull anything out of Album #2. That’s all that really needs to be said.Gorillaz – Plastic BeachIt’s probably telling that the newly Glastonbury-headlining Gorillaz have dropped their cartoon faces for those of Albarn, Simonon, Jones, et al. There’s no less sense of novelty on Plastic Beach than Demon Days (see the fake breakfast cereal ad Superfast Jellyfish), it’s no less sprawling, ambitious, or plain weird (Glitter Freeze), but it’s somehow less of a cartoon, and that’s stopped me from immediately falling in love with the whole twitching, shaking mess. Doesn’t mean it’s a worse record, of course. I think it’s probably their best. I’m just broken. Kate Nash – My Best Friend is YouThere is a definite Kate Nash formula. When her guitar goes like, y’know, and maybe there’s a bit of piano, and her voice is all like… The new album opens sounding exactly like that, like the old one. Throughout, she use of those typical Nashisms: the blunt state-the-obvious observations (“Barbecue food is good/You invite me out to eat it, I should”) with the purposely flat language and rubbish rhymes. They occasionally shine in the verses, but as usual, fall flat when they have to carry a chorus, looking like Lily Allen-lite. So more of the same, you think. But it’s a trick. My Best Friend is You is more a series of blueprints for a possible second album than an actual record. That first track, Paris, imagines a slightly evolved, slightly more euphoric Nash. There’s hyper-neurotic wordy Nash elsewhere. Then there’s Don’t You Want to Share the Guilt? (an example of Nash’s ability to stumble onto simple but handsome and evocative phrasing, every now and then). It opens with that BBQ couplet, and slowly winds up, ending in a big dense spoken word bit, opening with… “I don’t know how more people haven’t got mental health problemsThinking is one of those stressful things I’ve ever come acrossAnd not being able to articulate what I want to say drives me crazyI think I should try and read more books and learn some new wordsMy sister used to read the dictionary, I’m going to start with that” Which is pretty much exactly my point. And, admittedly, the point of all her critics. But I think it’s easy to forget the language thing is an intentional stylistic choice and just dismissing it as stupid is borrrring. It goes on to feature the kind of lyrics I’d quote online in my statuses and profiles if I wasn’t too old and self-conscious now. Then, the next song is all banshee screams and Pixies guitars. A Nash who dived back into her record collection and decided, I could be the English Karen O (which she couldn’t and I’m glad that ultimately she didn’t, but is nice to hear her trying on for a bit). Take Me To A Higher Plane is folksy-Los-Campesinos-backing while Nash pretends she’s that woman from the Juno soundtrack. Mansion Song is the touchstone, though. Listen to it now. Okay, I’m sure you’re listening to it, but I’ll tell you what it sounds like anyway. It’s terrifying. It stirs all those things I’m unsure about with feminism, post-feminism and irony, Nash spitting the words over the looping drone of a music-box as it winds down, the little porcelain ballerina spinning slower and slower… and then it becomes this hyper version of Foundations. It’s frankly unpleasant, in the best possible way. It’s just curiosity that drives me, every time I listen to this album. I sneer the just, as if that’s a weakness. But curiosity is rare, certainly not what expected from this album. Curiosity is more than enough. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening“Love is an open book to a verse of your bad poetry/And this is coming from me”.I’ve got a huge amount albums to talk about here (it’s been a really, really good year months for music, and it was during this album that that realisation clicked) so I’m trying to do them in a nutshell. This moment, in I Can Change (the single release of which being the point this album clicked with me, following which I had to listen to it twice a day for a week) is a pretty perfect encapsulation of the whole album. Flawless electronic waves – they could come across as cold – beat against your subconscious, while clever, funny and self-deprecating lyrics -that could come off as trite – appeal to you more directly. The song could just fall flat, but inbetween the two, somehow, […]