Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006: Top Albums

Thanks to the miracle that is the internet (and free streaming services) this past year has given me the opportunity to listen to almost as many albums as I did when I was a sub-music director at a college radio station. In spite of the access there were only a few albums that I found myself drawn to time and time again.

1. Pet Shop Boys Fundamental

Returning to the principals of the duo's "imperial period" of the late 80's with producer Trevor Horn Fundamental managed to be my favorite and most listened to album of the year despite it's flaws brought on by the Boys own attempt to create a cohesive album. If they had included the Richard X produced "Fugitive" (on the bonus disc), "The Resurectionist" and "Bright Young Things" (b-sides) we would have a classic PSB disc. Sill it's hard to complain about an album that has "Minimal", "I Made My Excuses And Left" and the chill inducing "Integral".

2. Goldfrapp Supernature

Love is a difficult thing when you're treated badly and my relationship with this album is a complicated one. The music is brilliant as the duo complete their electropop makeover in a style that is unparalleled but the endless lingering in limbo for the belated US release took it's toll and I didn't find myself giving it the attention it deserved. Still tracks like "Ride A White Horse", "Satin Chic" and "Let It Take You" changed me as they left an imprint on my soul and for that I will always be grateful.

3. Tiga Sexor

Arriving at least three years too late for a proper electroclash cash out Tiga's debut album left many puzzled on first few listens. Still I've found myself going back to the album over and over again on my mp3 player as I slowly but surely have found new tracks to obsess over and pick apart. This must be why six of the tracks have outside lives as singles even when he didn't just take the easy way out by compiling his one-off single releases as an album. It doesn't matter if Tiga is taking on Public Enemy on "Pleasure From The Bass", deconstructing NIN on "Down In It" or himself on "Type Of Guy" (which references almost every single song he had recorded before the album) there is plenty of good listening here.

4. Ferry Corsten L.E.F.

Trance star Ferry Corsten proves again that he has more interests than the melodic trance he built his name with as he storms the sub-genres that fall under the electronica umbrella with an unusually strong sense of song craft. The album's profile has been hampered by dodgy single selections like "Junk", which is his 2002 hit "Punk" with a rap over it, but the album has very few missteps and is so strong that Howard Jones sounds good and relevant on his guest track (note: I hate Howard Jones). Corsten calls his music loud, electro and ferocious but "L.E.F.", "Down On Love" and "Into The Dark" explore more complex and ambiguous territory (actually "L.E.F" must be played very loud, is extremely electro and is utterly ferocious but you get my point).

5. Junkie XL Today

The most common complaint about Tom "Junkie XL" Holkenborg is that he simply copies the style of others and he overcomes that here exploring a rock-ish style of trance that he has been developing as a remixer over the past few years on an album that also delivers strong straightforward vocal songs. Fortunately it's much better than it should be and far more complex than I can properly describe as the album conjures atmospheric post-punk like The Cure but in a more electronic way. "Today", "Youthful" and "Yesterdays" are as good as it gets from rock-friendly electronica.

There are other albums that could be contenders which haven't connected with me completely yet. Junior Boys So This Is Goodbye is a truly solid album and Hot Chip's The Warning has many fantastic tracks but I rarely find myself listening to them like I do with the albums that made the cut.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

2006: Top Songs

  1. Pet Shop Boys- Minimal (video)
  2. Hot Chip- Over & Over (video)
  3. Gnarls Barkley- Crazy (video)
  4. Goldfrapp- Ride A White Horse (video)
  5. The Killers- When You Were Young (video)
  6. Junior Boys- In The Morning (mp3)
  7. Massive Attack- Live With Me (video)
  8. Tiga- (Far From) Home (mp3)
  9. James Figurine- 55566688833 (mp3)
  10. Justin Timberlake- SexyBack (video)

Friday, December 29, 2006

2006: Year End Survey

In a stunt never before attempted by me I will be summarizing the year that was 2006 in three convenient installments. First up is this lovely survey created from stolen questions.

Favorite Remix of The Year: Madonna- Sorry (PSB Maxi-Mix)
Favorite B-side: Camouflage- Conversation
Favorite Video: Hot Chip- Over & Over
Most Consistent Single/EP Package: Junior Boys- In The Morning
Favorite Song Title: The Coup- Baby Lets Have A Baby Before Bush Do Somethin' Crazy
Most Hated Song: Sandi Thom- I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair)
Song That Most Sounds Like Bands Biggest Hit: Covenant- Pulse (An almost exact carbon copy of “Dead Stars” that uses the same chords, bass and melody with lyrics that also mention “stars“)
Most Played Song Released In 2006 Using Itunes: Dangerous Muse- Give Me Danger/Portishead- Requiem for Anna (8 plays each)
Program I Used Least Often To Actually Listen To Music: Itunes
Album that Should Have Been A Disaster But Wasn’t: Bananarama Drama
Least Surprising Album Not To Be Released In 2006 Despite It's Announcement: New Order’s 2006 album that they talked during promotion for Waiting For The Sirens Call
Most Bizarre Album Credit: Additional Vocal Production- Stuart Price (on Scissor Sisters Ta-Dah)
Most Regretted CD Purchase: Imogen Heap Speak For Yourself (Not for the music which is quite lovely. The cd is not supposed to be one of the sony rootkit discs but whatever it auto installed made my entire computer buggy for a week and permanently disabled my favorite program to rip and burn cds. Thanks sony!)
Favorite PopJustice Post: Debunking Banksy's lazy "art" stunt mocking Paris Hilton
Biggest Disappointment: Goldfrapp's absolute minimal promotion of Supernature in the US
Worst Music News: Tower Records closing

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Trapped In The Past

Listmania is upon us as the year comes to a close and as the next few days should attest I am not immune from the fever sweeping across the entertainment press and blogs but I did stumble into a piece on Connect Savannah that makes an interesting point. Given the amazing amount of albums released in a year across a sea of genres each year top 10 lists function as a "media Rorschach test" so that "critic’s allegiances can truly be ascertained". The article's author demonstrates his point by taking apart a couple of bigger outlets lists noting that "the average age of the top three artists on Rolling Stone’s list is 48" which "doesn’t bode well for your openness to new and different sounds". In a year where blogs have come into their own and taken over the arena of championing new music you might wonder what the editorial staff at Rolling Stone was thinking. Perhaps they were too distracted getting down with the kids with their new mtv reality show to focus on music that reflects 2006. Regardless the hidden agenda behind some lists is something to keep in mind when you're skimming the many top 10 lists out there.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Flashback: Saint Etienne "I Was Born On Christmas Day" (1993)

A couple of albums into Saint Etienne's career they realized that "when you're in a pop group, you want to do a Christmas single, don't you?" which led to their Xmas 93 EP. The highlight is the duet with The Charlatan's Tim Burgess "I Was Born On Christmas Day" which is a danceable uptempo love song in the tradition of The Waitresses "Christmas Wrapping" that is much less interested in Christmas so the song can be enjoyed year round.
The video keeps things light with Sarah and Tim meeting up for the wedding suggested in the lyrics and getting down at a wedding reception in a low cost "discotek" decorated with a Christmas tree. Having gotten married around the holidays myself the Christmas tree in the video brings back fond memories of the tree at the corner of our reception that snuck into more than a few of the wedding photographs:

: Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley was born on Christmas day so do wish him a happy birthday if you happen to run into him somewhere on this side of the international date line. While the Xmas EP is long out of print "I Was Born On Christmas Day" can be found on the North American versions of Tiger Bay and on some of Saint Etienne's singles collections.

Friday, December 22, 2006

It Takes A Village

The original Cowboy from the Village People has a new solo album out which finds him covering Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode and Robbie Williams among others. Most interesting is the cover of PSB's worst single ever (which just happens to be a Village People tribute) “New York City Boy” which is described as "in your face with the brash, hairy-chested treatment, complete with blazing NYC horns that the Pet Shop Boys version lacked." Preview the disc at cdbaby to get a feel for it.

Thanks to the PSB Fans myspace for the tip.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Video: Sharam "PATT"

Sharam is half of house heroes Deep Dish and his latest effort is an effective reworking of Eddie Murphy's classic "Party All Of Time". The video is a must watch so be sure to give it a look:

: Compare with the original Murphy video here and visit Sharam's myspace for more from him.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Free Download: The Knife- Christmas Reindeer

The season of giving is upon us and that hasn't escaped the notice of The Knife. For the rest of the month they are offering the song "Christmas Reindeer" for free on itunes and on their site. If a Christmas song coming from a group that has been exploring all sounds cold and creepy recently seems like an odd combination that is only because it is. They don't compromise their ideals at all avoiding the more accessible route and never loose their un-cheer which makes "Christmas Reindeer" all that much more unique for it.

Stream more from The Knife at their myspace.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Keep Your Eyes On The Real Killers

The Pet Shop Boys site just announced that the Boys are currently in the studio remixing The Killer's upcoming single "Read My Mind". This is the track on the generally rock Sam's Town that is the most likely to translate well into a PSB mix because it's heavy on the synth pads that Boys so often employ giving them a great starting point. Coming on the heels of the underrated "Bones" and their semi-charity Christmas single "Big Red Sled" this next single could be a turning point in The Killers career. Hopefully it inspires a return new wave on the next album.

Here is the video for "Big Red Sled" and if you haven't heard it yet (which as a blog reader and music fan reading a post about The Killers you probably have by this point) keep in mind that it is one of those songs that sounds like a complete mess the first five listens but grows on you after that:

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Video: Client "Lights Go Out"

Client made an unexpected return in the US this week with the digital "Lights Go Out" single. Taken from their forthcoming 2007 album Heartland the track first appeared on the PopJustice CD to generally favorable reviews that often employ PopJustice-ish buzz words like "pop" and "amazing".

"Lights Go Out" is one of those woman-returning-to-a-former-lover-despite-knowing-she-will-end-up-hurt songs and has a great pop line offering to be "your guilty pleasure". Musically the song is sort of a mishmash of ideas that they have explored before borrowing the swinging beat of "Pornography" and the ominous string sound of "Radio" but without the clarity that defines that stronger material. Client have been working with Youth and Stephen Hague on the new album, but having bought the single from itunes there is no info attached to the music (note to itunes: if you're selling music downloads then have someone copy the liner notes because it's the right thing to do) but the song doesn't really have anything resembling the sonic signature of either producer.

The video captures the trio performing individually on rotating platforms with the added enhancement of some very cheap special effects that might have looked cool in a 60s tv show but are now standard issue extras in digital video editing programs. It's a no frills production that reflects the band's new diy status (more on that in a moment) that makes the cheap videos they made for mute look like epics. Sadly even no budget efforts from band's like Freezepop show more imagination while using the same effects.

: Client broke off their relationship with Toast Hawaii/Mute earlier this year citing a disinterest in the corporate nature of Mute as an arm of EMI and they are now planning to go it alone in their native UK and are working with various interested labels to spread their muisic across the world. Finding the single online was something of a shock because Client have been promoting their cover of Adam Ant's "Xerox Machine" (hear Ant's original here) as the album's first single and that has a February release scheduled on Metropolis Records in the US. Itunes lists this single being from the band's German distributor Out Of Line and Client's myspace and official news page has no information about "Lights Go Out". It's only a message buried on Client's forum that explains that the band aren't promoting the single because it's a Germany-exclusive release and that it is intended as Heartland's third single elsewhere. One almost gets the impression that Out Of Line overstepped their rights and that this single might be pulled from itunes rather quickly. This might be the stumbling baby steps of a self release strategy but someone got a Client single online and available as a download in the US. That's more than Mute pulled off in their two album's worth of releases with the band.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Artists The American Recording Industry Deems Important Are...

The new Grammy nominations are out and while the awards have little to do with the actual artistic quality of the nominations (I know of people who work at major labels who were told to sing as part of a chorus to make them eligible to vote as artists thus getting around that whole "it's artists celebrating other artists" thing that gives the award some legitimacy) it's still interesting to see what gets nominated. Here are the categories I care about:

Best Dance Recording
(For solo, duo, group or collaborative performances. Vocal or Instrumental. Singles or tracks only.)

Suffer Well
Depeche Mode
Ben Hillier, producer; Steve Fitzmaurice & Ben Hillier, mixers
Track from: Playing The Angel

Ooh La La
Goldfrapp, producers; Mark "Spike" Stent, mixer
Track from: Supernature

Get Together
Madonna & Stuart Price, producers; Mark "Spike" Stent, mixer
Track from: Confessions On A Dance Floor
[Warner Bros.]

I'm With Stupid
Pet Shop Boys
Trevor Horn, producer; Robert Orton, mixer
Track from: Fundamental
[Rhino Entertainment]

Sexy Back
Justin Timberlake & Timbaland
Danja, Timbaland & Justin Timberlake, producers; Jimmy Douglass, mixer
[Jive Records/Zomba Label Group]

Best Electronic/Dance Album
(For vocal or instrumental albums. Albums only.)


Confessions On A Dance Floor
[Warner Bros.]

A Lively Mind

Pet Shop Boys
[Rhino Entertainment]

The Garden
Zero 7

Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical
(A Remixer's Award. (Artists names appear in parenthesis for identification.) Singles or Tracks only.)

Be Without You (Moto Blanco Vocal Mix)
Moto Blanco, remixer (Mary J. Blige)
[Geffen Records]

Damage Thorn (Buick Project Remix)
Buick Project, remixers (Tiefschwarz & Tracey Thorn)
[Fine/Four Music Productions]

Deja Vu (Freemasons Club Mix - No Rap)
Russell Small & James Wiltshire, remixers (Beyoncé)
[Columbia/Sony Urban Music]

Talk (Thin White Duke Mix)
Jacques Lu Cont, remixer (Coldplay)
Track from: Talk Remix EP
[Capitol Records]

World Hold On (E-Smoove Remix)
E-Smoove, remixer (Bob Sinclair)
[Ultra Records]

: All the songs nominated in the Best Dance Recording are great with the exception of PSB's "I'm With Stupid". Why they didn't release another song as the single is beyond me. The Best Electronic/Dance Album category has a more deserving PSB nod and the category has some good choices even if the Zero 7 and Oakenfold albums got no buzz at all after they were released. Perhaps I'll finally get around to listening to them. I haven't heard most of the Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical although it is worth noting that Stuart Price's Coldplay mix could be seen as the front runner because remixes a rock "cover" of a Kraftwerk track and that E-Smoove's reputation in the industry must be alright despite his public legal issues with Kanye West. If you're interested in listening to the "Damage" mix it is currently up at Tracy Thorn's myspace along with a track from her forthcoming 2007 album (thanks xo!).

A quick summary of the rest of the nominations:

  • Gnarls Barkley nominated for Record Of The Year & Album Of The Year.
  • Imogen Heap's nominations as Best New Artist and for Best Song Written For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media (for "Can't Take It In" from The Chronicles Of Narnia — The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe).
  • Ministry & NIN nominated in the metal & hard rock categories.
  • The Killers scored a nomination for Best Rock Song & Short Form Video with "When You Were Young".
  • Busta Rhymes Daft Punk-sampling "Touch It" is up for Best Rap Solo Performance.
  • The 80's revival is spreading as Luther Vandross, Lionel Richie and Prince compete for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
  • "My Humps" was nominated for a Grammy. Shame they passed on "London Bridge".

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Wrote This Post A Long Time Ago

I was going to post this back in September when this blurb was first published in the UK's Mirror but I never got around to it:

FIVE years and millions of pounds later Robbie Williams has admitted what we knew along - he'll never crack the US.

He will not be releasing his critically mauled forthcoming album, Rudebox, there. "They're not having it, I'm not releasing it there," he told Capital FM's Johnny Vaughan.

Robbie, 32, added: "The only way an album of mine is going to be in the States is if I leave it there or leave it in Tower Records. I'll go with a bunch and just leave them."

: The album is actually available online in the US making it much easier to nab the quite good PSB produced tracks, and the big download services gave Rudebox more attention than your average American would expect. Months later I still love the image of Robbie rushing into a closing Tower that has already been stripped of at least 90% of the big sellers with a pile of discs. That's his career in America in a nutshell.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Flashback: Chemical Brothers "It Began In Afrika" (2001)

First played live in late 2000 "It Began In Afrika" is the Chemical Brothers single that almost never was. A few months after the song's debut, but long before the Chems had a version they found satisfactory, they sent the song out in acetate form to a few select producer and dj friends for feedback but as they continued to tinker the track developed a life of it's own. Appearances in high profile mix sessions from their superstar dj friends created buzz for the track and several publications predicted it would be the "anthem of the summer" as far back as May of '01. Despite the praise it appeared that The Brothers couldn't bear to part with the track before it was fully realized and in the age of Napster it may have cost them. With no single in sight versions of the song and clones that sampled the title phrase flooded p2p networks by mid-summer as it became more than just an anthem but a product of the collective imagination of dance fans across the globe.

Why then was there a long wait? I believe it comes down to two factors. First off it is one of the most straightforward club tracks that The Chemicals had released as a single at that point. The song maintains the classic four-on-the-floor throughout and while it works the template fantastically there is nothing definitively "Chemical Brothers" about the track. The other factor is Norman Cook. The title sample and most likely some of the percussion are taken from proto-rap spoken word and soul artist Jim Ingram's "Drumbeat" but Norman Cook used them first in his 1988 one-off project The Urban All Stars on a track called "It Began In Africa". They were working with material their friend and competitor had already cheekily committed to a "dj and producers only" sample disc (track 30 if you're interested) so I suspect they wanted to be sure that when it was released every ounce of floor filling potential was maximized.

An official video for "It Began In Afrika" was never created and it came out nearly six months before their next album leaving the impression that they never really finished the song but it had just reached the point where it had to be released. It charted at the number 8 position on the UK singles charts which is respectable for a track that had the opportunity to tire potential buyers who had download options available for months in advance.

Also of note is the US release date on which other events of a much more important scale overshadow anything else about the song. Reminded of the release date I do think it was my intention to pick it up that day before I woke up to the worst news my generation has witnessed.

Listen to it by way of this unofficial video (actually The Chemical Brothers song over the visuals from a Cassius video):