I’ve already documented my love of Kavinsky’s OutRun, and Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. But what of all the other music I’ve listened to over the last four months? Here are two more albums, and one more track, that I’ve spent a lot of that time in the company of.
It’s far from everything I’ve dug (sorry Chvrches, Why?, Kitty, et al) but it’s the stuff that most insisted I write about it. So let’s dive in.
I find it strangely difficult to separate The Next Day, David Bowie’s 24th studio album, from David Bowie Is…, the V&A exhibition dedicated to him. They landed at about the same time, after such a long period of Bowielessness, and it felt like it’d been planned this way all along – the two prongs of the Big Bowie Resurgence of Early 2013.
Honestly, though, I think I prefer the exhibition. It has a rare vitality, between its pleasantly short attention span and wonky half-successful experiments with technology, that feels very Bowie.
For a record so drenched in his history, from the persistent Berlin references of Where Are We Now? onwards, Bowie actually feels a little absent from The Next Day. It feels like that could be intentional, a thematic touch – the cover, pasting over “Heroes”; the video for The Stars (Are Out Tonight), casting David as the regular guy and transplanting Bowie the icon onto a range of wondefully androgynous women.
So, maybe that’s the point, the removal of all superficial Bowie iconography from the equation, leaving just that unmistakable drawl and the same musical talent that has surrounded it since the ’70s.
But at times the album sounds a little old-fashioned – in the clunkier lyrics of Boss of Me or I’d Rather Be High, in the U2-ness of If You Can See Me’s opening. It feels like a very strange thing to say about Bowie, forever pop’s archduke of the cutting-edge.
Maybe that’s the only way to sidestep how much his influence saturates modern music. But there’s not the flash, the ideas, the showiness that I’ve always liked most about Bowie – the same stuff that was so present in a museum, of all places.
Maybe it’s all just surface stuff that I miss. But this is pop music, and that’s at least as important as the tunes, right?
I’ve always liked Kate Nash best when she’s angry.
I still maintain that it was the genuine frustration sitting under the surface of Foundations which launched it and her into the public consciousness, where they sat for one long summer. I love the blunt feminist rage of Mansion Song‘s spoken word. There’s just something in the way her voice catches and you can sense she really means it that cuts perfectly through all the cute twee stuff and her habit of stating things outright.
The good news is, on the evidence of Girl Talk, Nash seems to agree with me.
The album starts out innocuously enough, the logical extension of what she’s done previously. It has the odd moment, but is fairly unremarkable. Then, a minute into track five (Sister), you realise the music has been creaking up a ramp into the sky and you’re sitting at the top-point of the rollercoaster. There’s a whispered two, three, four…, and everything fires downhill.
The album builds up speed quickly, and on the best tracks, Nash is an absolute dynamo, metabolising influences from Poly Styrene’s sandpaper-rough squeal to Kim Deal’s disinterested rumble as she goes. From moment to moment, she might channel MIA, Kathleen Hanna, and/or Kimya Dawson. The best of girl-fronted Britpop. 1960s close-harmony girl groups… It’s like (Birmingham’s best clubnight in the world) Atta Grrl condensed into one record.
And as with Atta Grrl, the music here feels heavily, pointedly gendered – the album is called Girl Talk, after all, and I don’t think it’s a tribute to the mash-up artist. It’s great and… well, hang on, you can always rely on Nash to put it as straightforwardly as it needs to be put:
“You have a problem with me,
‘Cause I’m a girl.
I’m a feminist.
And if that offends you,
Then fuck you.”
Honestly, that most likely tells you everything you need to know about whether you’ll enjoy Girl Talk or not. It’s a bit blunt, sure, but if you can stomach that, you’ll probably enjoy the ride.
Tegan & Sara’s Heartthrob is actually a very fine album, but it’s first single/first track Closer in particular that has imprinted itself on my heart.
It’s music for dancing in your underwear to you, solo or (preferably) with a partner. Music for flirty supersoaker battles. Music for making out on the grass to, as a long-forgotten barbecue turns meat into charcoal.
It’s got this wonderfully braided structure, with a chorus which relies on the rhyme of “physical/critical/typical”, then pulling out “critical” and building a second chorus around it. Inbetween, verses are dropped as if in paretheses. Oh, and it both opens cold onto the titular line and ends on it.
It’s a fidgety song, as befits a song about wanting to get it on. Throughout, the music slows down, hangs for a moment – one of those beautiful parentheses, with music as descriptive as the lyrics, singing “the night sky is changing” and it just sounds like stop-motion footage of orange-purple clouds – and then kicking back in.
I can almost see the advert it would soundtrack, for Skins or hair product, or whatever young people are meant to be aspiring to. But that advert hasn’t been made yet, I don’t think, so I’m going to enjoy the hell out of Closer before it is.