Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: Top Songs

1. Goldfrapp- A & E
Those familiar with Goldfrapp's past knew they were capable of switching gears as they said they would after the disco-tastic Supernature but know one could know they would come up something so completely different from everything else they have done before while conjuring up their most emotional single to date. A year after I first heard the song it still gives me chills. Every time.

2. The Killers- Human
Bonding over their mutual Pet Shop Boys admiration Stuart Price takes The Killers down the disco in a collaboration that brings out the best in both parties. Brandon Flowers searching vocals take on questions that no one else dared ask as the music gives us the divine answer.

3. Moby- Disco Lies
First appearing on the Cloverfield soundtrack this second single from Last Night is the finest pop moments of the year you've never heard. Unfashionably technopop rather than electropop the song takes at what first appear to be pedestrian disco diva vocals wailing about how "you lied" and turn it into something transcendent. Shame a poorly planned initial release and a terrible video kept this grower from everyone but fans.

4. Cut Copy- Lights & Music
While I continue to bill this as the hipsters "Where The Streets Have No Name" the lush economy of the song is so breathtaking that even my repeat listens have only faintly dulled the impact of the song.

5. Kanye West- Love Lockdown
Forget Kanye the media personality for a moment. Can you think of a single song with an arrangement that flies completely in the face of convention that comes across as absolutely accessible as "Love Lockdown"? Kanye's futuristic performances are a jaw dropping but at the core the song deals with love that has spun out of control in an honest way and that is something pretty amazing too.

6. Hot Chip- Ready For The Floor
This rumored Kylie reject (sadly debunked) is ready for the floor as it asks "I can’t hear your voice, do I have a choice?" before creating even more confusion by quoting Tim Burton's Batman. Amazing.

7. The Black Ghosts- Anyway You Choose To Give It
Bringing together the talents of the guy behind The Wiseguys (my favorite big beat two hit wonder of 1999) with the vocalist from Simian (naturally not a part of the amazing Simian Mobile Disco) "Anyway You Choose To Give It" is a proper song that begs for you to hit repeat despite the Justice-sized overdriven bass that dresses the track. With an album that finally just dropped in full on itunes this is most definitely an act to keep an eye on.

8. Chemical Brothers- Keep My Composure
Better by a hair than the other new Chemical Brother track included on the unnecessary singles collection Brotherhood this collaboration with Spank Rock finds the Brothers reconnecting with a raw jump up hip hop sound they haven't explored since the Loops Of Fury EP. Plays up more of their strengths than 95% of their material this decade.

9. Nine Inch Nails- Discipline
Trent Reznor stops trying to be scary all the time on this disco number from the second Nine Inch Nails album of the year (the free one) and releases his most openly commercial singles in years.

10. Ladytron- Deep Blue
Who doesn't love a song about the most famous chess playing computer in the world?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Things I Learned In 2008

Over the past year I have learned a few new things:

  • Spiralfrog is amazing! I read about the site, which offers free legit downloads from most of the major labels and big indies, last January in a year end recap that predicted it would die a quick death. The site runs on a model similar to the subscription based versions of napster, rhapsody and zune offering drm-protected wma files that play back with windows media player and on wma compatible mp3 players. While it won't help ipod sheep the site offers a quality way to preview music in a way that the public has been looking for since original version of napster went mainstream.
  • Publicly calling your label out on being stupid works. At least sometimes: Moby posted a missive about the merits of beatport and how he couldn't understand why his label wouldn't allow his music to be sold on the site when everything in the music business had fallen to pieces. After what he said was years of privately arguing with his label his material was posted on beatport within a month.
  • Neon Neon's "Dream Cars" borrows at least half of it's melody from The Drifter's "Under The Boardwalk".
  • Major labels still don't know how to handle import releases. This year saw late, often internet only, releases from Robyn, Kylie, Groove Armada, The Egg (put out in 2004 everywhere else) as we still wait for Roisin Murphy, Girls Aloud and who-knows-what-I-forgot to come out stateside. While not all of these are out on multinational labels one would think that it would be a fairly easy to avoid losing US sales on acts like this. Simply release everything you have the rights for digitally at the same time across the world so you catch the early adopters. Then if the label decides they can actually push an album do a CD release when the artist is available to promote it in the US. Problem solved. Get to it guys.
  • When revisiting Pet Shop Boys albums I haven't listened to in some time I find myself reaching new insights that I later realize I actually read at GeoWayne's site at some point since my last listen. Here I was thinking that I had become older and wiser.
  • Matinee Club are once again The Modern. Honest.
  • No clear favorite album this year but it seems like there are too many albums I have yet to give a proper listen to. I found myself most often playing the offerings from Ladytron, Robyn, Midnight Juggernauts, Cut Copy, Neon Neon, Blank + Jones and Goldfrapp.

Monday, December 29, 2008

All Rights Reversed

The Chemical Brothers re-released We Are The Night this past week and unfortunately this was not the attempt to revitalize the album with the new Brotherhood singles that I would lobby the band for but an update to the artwork inspired by "legal reasons". While it is difficult to find details it appears that the screen prints done by Kate Gibb for the packaging incorporate the work of artist Herbert Bayer without his estate's consent. There is a great comparison of the source material and the original Chemical Brothers cover and the booklet's interior artwork here which makes it pretty clear that something was up. Here is the illegal art from the original release:

: and the new version:

Monday, December 22, 2008

Video: Freezepop "Frontload"

Things had been relatively quiet on the Freezepop front lately leaving me with the impression that they had given up on their major label debut Future Future Future Perfect when the new Form Activity Motion EP dropped out of nowhere on to itunes a few weeks ago. Oddly enough the core of the release are remixes of the two extremes in quality found on Future.... The understated electro ballad "Thought Balloon" encapsulates much of what Freezepop does best with tender lyrics that find the narrator stumbling to let get the words that could start a romance over innocent music. On the other end of the spectrum is "Frontload" the most openly ambitious songs the band has recorded which has an arrangement on the album that simply does not work. While even the first notes signal that it is intended to be epic the song ultimately turns into a mess. So imagine my surprise when the band's new version featured in the video and found on the EP is much, much better turning "Frontload" from a song I despise to one that I just can't get enough of. What's the difference between the two? You can't ignore the new rhythm track but more important to the song's success is the change structurally turning a song with a couple of peaks into one with a single linear build. The video is nice too breathing new life into the played-out back of a taxi concept without resorting to gimmicks (no offense to Jarvis who pulled that route off marvelously):

: The rest of the "Frontload" remixes on the EP fare well and are worth checking out over the "Thought Balloon" mixes but they got that one right the first time. Sometimes you just can't mess with perfection. Stop by their myspace for more Freezepop fun.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Video: Anya Marina "Move You"

File this under "now for something completely different" but when checking Spinner today I was shocked to see that their video of the day was by an artist I know. Back when I djed at KSCU, aka my college radio days, I tuned into the station pretty much constantly. One of the station's clear stars was Anya who used her quick wit and warm personality to create an on air presence that put the rest of us college radio slobs to shame. I wasn't too surprised to learn that she soon found her way into a paying job in radio which she has kept up to this day as she currently broadcasts out of San Diego. What I didn't realize at the time is that she is also a musician. Much of her music falls into the "singer/songwriter" category so it's not something you would expect me to post here but Anya is a cool person and she even has a song on one of the Grey's Anatomy soundtracks so here is "Move You":

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Every Little Counts

When the news came down some months ago that the always meticulous Rhino Records would be remastering New Order's 80's albums I imagined it could only mean good things. Unfortunately the reissues tracklisting leaves plenty of potential bonus material out of the picture and worse yet they mastered some of the tracks by picking up some old commercially available vinyl. Stop by siart for a great synopsis of what went wrong as we wait for Rhino to rectify the problem by reissuing the reissues.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Rock It Don't Stop It

Maybe you have seen this ad:

: I can't be the only one who keeps waiting for Ralf Hütter or Florian Schneider to pop up and say "no that's my song" which would prompt Afrika Bambaataa to say "well actually it was influenced by your songs "Trans Europe Express" and "Numbers"...perhaps you remember the settlement".
Common's song is rather good so check out the Hype Williams low budget video for "Universal Mind Control" here.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Video: The Killers featuring Elton John & Neil Tennant "Joseph"

You would think that a track with so much talent involved might be a little better than this:

: I've been waiting for Stuart Price to produce the Pet Shop Boys for a decade now and this doesn't quite cut it. The vibe was apparently good in the studio so we can hope this leads to something better.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Disappointed Once More

While I don't blog with enough frequency to complain about the albums that leave me disillusioned that's not going to stop me:

Shiny Toy Guns Season Of Poison
Endless live support of their debut album, which first came to my attention back in 2005, had reached Cher farewell tour proportions which makes one wonder just how long they spent in the studio recording this lackluster followup. While changing up styles can be a good thing the release suffers from the band purging the synthpop vibe that made them unique making the so-so songs just sink. Of course any album that suggests a whole season of poison isn't going to be much fun so at least band put a warning right out on the front cover.

Moby Last Night Remixed
While I have yet to get my thoughts on the source album out of draft this disjointed remix album is a mess. I rate Moby's two-disc Everything Is Wrong: Mixed & Remixed as one of my favorite remix albums ever but this is clearly on the other side of the spectrum with not enough interesting material to justify the release. While available to download as individual tracks the star here should be Moby's own dj mix of the tracks but it suffers as most tracks are played in their entirety making the whole thing drag on and on for 74 minutes.

Keane Perfect Symmetry
While far from the most fervent Keane supporter I had high hopes for the album after Tim Rice-Oxley's recent work with Gwen Stefani resulted in a highlight and Stuart Price's (peripheral) involvement raised the stakes. Lead single "Spiraling" has grown on me but the album as a whole feels like a chore to listen to with poor pacing and pandering lyrics, listen to "Better Than This" if you want an ego boost, that make the first quarter of the album feel like the whole thing should be over already. The album's real crime is failing the "Early Winter" test. Not a thing here even touches that song.

Sam Sparro Sam Sparro
While Sam has gotten the blog love from the blogs I love the album is actually two tracks deep. The US exclusive "S.A.M.S.P.A.R.R.O." and the undeniable "Black And Gold". I must be missing something because the rest of the album does nothing for me.

Hercules And Love Affair Hercules And Love Affair
I get that their ability to create interesting old school disco vibes and the DFA connection helped win them plenty of buzz but their crushing inability to write songs sinks the album quickly. Now a few short months after the hype has died down I imagine few of the album's most ardent supporter can recall a single track that has stuck with them.

Lady Gaga The Fame
Possibly the worst album on this list it's hard to believe this is in the US top 10. Fans seem to think she is offering something but album is full of bland filler that is only occasionally saved the rare clever line. Among the offenses the brag about a sick beat on "Just Dance" that just isn't delivered in the song.