Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: Top Songs

1. Gorillaz- Stylo
Easily dismissed on the first listen for adhering to the Gorillaz signature "first single" style this offers much more.  The most memorable baseline of the year is a good starting point but Bobby Womack's electric vocal transports the song to "another world in the universe".  Oooooh!

2. Brandon Flowers- Crossfire
A more subtle affair than Flowers' big singles with The Killers but to great effect.

3. Scissor Sisters- Invisible Light
Massive, massive disco tune.

4. Goldfrapp- Alive
The most perfect piece of electropop on a near flawless album.

5. Lindstrøm and Christabelle- Lovesick
Taking electro tempo down a bit this has been accused of being indie-dance circa-1990.  Nothing wrong with that.

6. Swedish House Mafia- One
This should so not work.  Pharrell's vocal sounds like it was conceived and recorded in five minutes, the riff is simple enough you can play it on an iphone synth and then the intro is basically a reworking of the breakdown from Fatboy Slim's "Rockafeller Skank".  Much better than the sum of it's parts.

7. Robyn- Dancing On My Own
I had this idea that I would quote negative reviews of the songs on this list but after pages and pages of googling I gave up.  Who could have something bad to say about Robyn at this point?

8. Deadmau5- Some Chords
The electronic underground buzz act of the year proves he has songwriting chops.

9. Little Boots- Mathematics
The US didn't get Hands until March of this year.  This circling, dizzy track creates the perfect formula for "a heart plus a heart".

10. Freezepop- Doppelganger
Expanding their synthpop pallet the narrative involves a run-in with an ex with a definite type.

2010: Year In Review

Say what you will about 2010 but no one could have predicted some of the odd moments that came to be in the past year.  Modern synthpop alumni Brandon Flowers put his rock band on the back burner to record with super disco producer Stuart Price only to turn in an album that is doused with country twang.  In a year where the line between dance music and hip hop has been blurred beyond distinction The Chemical Brothers, career long champions of dance/hip hop hybridization, created a rap free psychedelic album that came with custom visuals.  Daft Punk and Johnny Marr went Hollywood, separately, contributing to heavily discussed soundtracks to blockbuster films.  Then there was the usually lumbering Gorillaz, who unleashed two albums on the public with some of the brightest singles of the year.  Who expected the Blur front man's hip hop side-project to be so dominant in 2010?

Album of the year: Goldfrapp Head First
Live television performance: Gorillaz "Rhinestone Eyes" (on Letterman with an awesome misfire early in the clip)
Teaser preview loop of the year: The Human League "Night People"
2nd best teaser preview loop of the year: Brandon Flowers "Only The Young"
Best ex-New Order song: Freebass "Live Tomorrow Die You Go Down"
Best smart phone app:  Audiogalaxy (streams your mp3 collection to your phone by way of your computer)
Worst music download sales move (artist): BT releasing his These Hopeful Machines as two tracks: side A and side B (later re-released as 12 individual tracks)
Worst music download sales move (retailer): itunes charging extra for version of albums that include something beyond cover art
Amusing fan gripe: Human League fans who fawned over their heroes signing with Wall Of Sound, the label that refused to fund perhaps their third biggest star Mekon's 2nd album and convinced Stuart Price not to record as Les Rythmes Digitales anymore to avoid working with them, only to be shocked that the label isn't doing much to promote the album.
Announced 2006 release that saw the light of day this year: BT These Hopeful Machines

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Pet Shop Boys tweeted "a change for the better" with a link to a New York Times piece about the recent trend in pop music vocals.  The article uses the recent commercial fate Christina Aguilera, described as "one of the foremost practitioners of the overpowering, Category 5 vocal style known as melisma", to suggest that the era over-singing has come to an end.  Melisma is "in its simplest form is a vocal technique in which a series of notes is stretched into one syllable" and the article details that in the past two decades "notes stretched louder, longer and knottier than most pop fans had ever heard" have made singing overtake songwriting as the focal point of pop music.  While I take proclamations on the end of an era with a grain of salt nothing would please me more to see this trend fade away.  Over-singing is among the crimes that Simon Cowell has inflicted upon music as even the terrible contestants feel that they should be inserting multi-octave passages that only distract from the true power within the songs they sing.  The vocalists most of my favorite bands come from DIY punk ethic where you get out there and do the best with you've got.  Is Bernard Sumner the most technically gifted singer?  Of course not, but his singing contains comes from a place that is genuine.  Over-singing is at the other end of the spectrum with as over-the-top histrionics plead for attention overwhelming what real emotion might exist in performance.  What the article misses is what was hidden on Christina Aguilera's deluxe versions of her recent Bionic, namely her songs done with Ladytron.  Particularly on "Birds Of Prey" she delivers an understated performance that works perfectly for the song.  Perhaps her unreleased work with Goldfrapp could have revealed similar dividends since Alison certainly has a powerful voice but she never abuses it keeping her songs in focus.  The article suggests that the "combination of vocal personality, arrangement, hook and songcraft" are what make pop music work.  Let us not forget that.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Fundamentals Of The Recorded Music Visual Experience

Itunes is advertising a new feature that allows you to view liner notes.  Very sad.
Itunes LP is trumpeted as the return to "the visual experience of the record album" with animated lyrics & liner notes, videos as well as "artist and band photos."  Back in 2003 when itunes opened as the first mass market legitimate digital music retailer I always thought it was an oversight that there was such little attached to the file.  Was this some sort of strategy since those getting music via p2p circa 2000 had more information attached to their music than your average current day itunes release?  It might just be my music nerd nature but I like to know who was involved in the music I am experiencing.  Here is a recent itunes purchase with the information that came with it.
If the goal of itunes is to replace physical music, aka CDs, then they should offer at least as much.  Free from the limitations of a format developed in the 1980s this should be a relatively easy task but itunes fails miserably.  I have to acknowledge the album title and year of release as a good start but there is nothing else here that wouldn't be in a mp3 file name.  Even by their own low standard itunes leaves the composer form blank.  Imagine someone hearing the difference in between the first two Depeche Mode albums having paid for digital copies on itunes and having no clue as to why that might be.  At minimum the digitial information should contain the name of the producer and itunes has no form for that.  Then there are all the other thing things a CD booklet contains.

Here is the back of the booklet of a CD that happened to be on the desk at the moment, Lush's Lovelife.  It lists the band's members, the producers, engineers, the dates and studio it was recorded, mixer, mastering engineer, art direction, photography, management and how to reach the Lush information service.  That is one page of eight in the booklet with the rest featuring lyrics, photographs and the names of additional musicians involved.  That is what has been missing from digital music to this point and it is a shame.  What really troubles me is that itunes is treating the inclusion of things they should have been doing since the beginning as a premium.  A quick survey of a couple of online prices indicate there is only a dollars difference in paying for the albums on itunes that offer these special visuals and picking up the CD of the same album.  Adding content you should have had from the start is no reason to overprice things and the idea that someone has to buy the whole album to get basic information seems rather backwards.  Perhaps apple could work it into one of their bi-weekly updates.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My DMCA Takedown Should Have Never Happened

The recent removal by Blogger of a post has been the source of frustration to me. This is not an mp3 blog and it never has been. For the past six years I have been very careful to only link to what I believed to be legitimate sites because I sincerely care about music and want people to financially support music that I also enjoy. Imagine my surprise when I logged into Blogger this week to discover a notice that a post from this blog had been removed because a claim had been filed accusing an offense of copyright law. The entry had been taken down last month, which speaks to how often I update this blog, and Blogger had sent me an email at the time to an account I rarely check. This is my DMCA takedown notification.
Puzzled as to what I am accused of I followed Blogger's path and found the complaint against me which was quite lengthy so it has been cut into three screen snippets.
I read nothing specific that I personally was accused of but the thrust of the complaint was that my post was one of many that contained links to "unauthorized copies of sound recordings that are freely available". This is simply not the case in my post. All the links I provided in my post linked to completely legitimate sites. One link would have taken you to the source of my Pitchfork quote, another to an official band page on's version of and the final link would have taken to free download of the Junior Boys song I was praising that was hosted on their label's website. If these are not legitimate websites what could ever be appropriate? Better yet, every single one of the links are no longer functional. The Pitchfork review is no longer at that address, has been shuttered with the link now being redirected to and now redirects Domino's music store where you can buy Junior Boys "In The Morning" after a brief search.
The origin of the complaint that removed my post is IFPI, or the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, based out of London, UK. The group describes themselves as an umbrella organization for "any company, firm or person producing sound recordings or music videos which are made available to the public in reasonable quantities" but make a point of their association with the RIAA on their website. The benefit of joining include "internet monitoring and closing of illegal sites" which lead me to believe that they are billing record companies for "services" like killing my post which directs readers to the record label's own website. I don't blame Google for removing the post because there are only so many lawsuits they can fight but I find it extremely distressing that a legal team that is supposedly doing record labels a service is shutting down posts that have zero negative consequences and have the potential to help sell some more of their product.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Free Download: Junior Boys- In The Morning

The following 2006 post was removed by Blogger on April 19, 2010 after they received a DMCA complaint regarding the post. I am re-posting this because there is nothing offensive contained in the entry and there was no copyright infringement involved. What I believe to be the offending link has been modified but it is dead link to a promotional mp3 offered by the band's label suggesting this notice is the work of lawyers too lazy to check what they are claiming is creating copyright infringement:

I stumbled into a free and legal download of Junior Boys amazing new single "In The Morning" and just had to share it. I enjoyed their "Last Exit" album, but nothing on it, even the fantastic "Birthday", grabbed me as quickly as "In The Morning" has. Not convinced by my taste? Then consult the holy book of hipsterdom:

Everything overlaps seamlessly-- the verse and the chorus blissfully interchangeable, all pushed forward by that rhythm-- up until around the three minute mark, when things swell to a sudden build and the Boys introduce a shrill firecracker synth riff that sounds like one of Lil JonÂ’s, albeit pitched up and comically excited. As simple sonic moments go, its one of the most thrilling youÂ’ll hear this year. As for the track, same-- five minutes rarely rush by this quickly.

: Pitchfork reports that Junior Boys album "So This Is Goodbye" is out on the improbable August 17th (which is a Thursday).

Friday, April 09, 2010

Flashback: Pet Shop Boys "Screaming" (1998)

Pet Shop Boys "Screaming" is one of the first tracks I experienced in the internet age. Accustomed to learning of upcoming releases from magazines or radio "Screaming" may be the first track I was first aware of from a site devoted to an artist. Given a spot on the soundtrack to Gus Van Sant's 1998 remake of Psycho the song seemed the perfect place for the PSB to strike for a stateside comeback in the "golden" era of movie soundtracks that produced hugely popular discs accompanying films like Romeo + Juliet and Trainspotting. The other artists on the soundtrack gave the Boys potential to reach a more youthful audience than they were receiving at the time with a bit of late 90s rock (Rob Zombie) and country filling out an album heavy on electronica with contributions from Howie B, Thievery Corporation, Mono, Lamb and Lionrock. There was recent evidence that PSB could turn out contemporary electronica (see the drum 'n' bass inspired "Betrayed") and their label was calling the song a "possible single" so the stakes were raised.
The track turned out to be a major disappointment. One of the least focused or memorable songs in their catalog it is mostly samples of screaming over a pedestrian beat that sounded very played out in the late 90s and absolutely elderly among their soundtrack-mates. Really the only redeeming factor is that the esteemed PSB commentator GeoWayne calls the lyrics "disturbing" in the context of the soundtrack. Given the track is a co-write with Tom Stephan, who seems to earn his living these days from not-terribly-inspiring remixes of Pet Shop Boys tracks, it seems all too easy to lay the blame at his feet but the whole soundtrack was a disaster with only Howie B's cheeky movie-sampling "Once Is Not Enough" holding up for more than a few listens. Tread lightly when you disturb a Hollywood classic:

: In addition to appearing on the Psycho soundtrack "Screaming" was also a b-side on the superb "I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Anymore" single a year later. Happily the Pet Shop Boys survived the song.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Video: Goldfrapp "Rocket"

Goldfrapp are brilliant. The latest evidence:

: They have a new album out this month, but they are not the most effective users of the internet so you wouldn't know that from their official sites like their official blog. Americans can find the Richard X remix of "Rocket" free at amazon. Head First is out March 23.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Catching Up With Moby

After a few quiet years Moby released his not terribly commercial ode to New York City nightlife Last Night and a remix album in 2008. Inspired by speech given by David Lynch he then announced he was no longer working with celebrity vocalists, not that there were any on Last Night, producing an album to be released on his own label without any conventional commercial inroads in the form of 2009's Wait For Me. Within six months Moby was promoting the re-release of the album with a hot new wave single and a facebook pyramid scheme that gains you sampler EP.

Without skipping a beat Moby just wrapped up a couple of recording sessions that go in yet another direction so he is now mulling over the album's worth of material contemplating "if putting out an acoustic/orchestral album will alienate the few remaining people who are willing to listen to my records". My advice, which Moby would know if he read my still-in-draft reviews of his recent work, is that he needs a producer or at least someone with an objective ear to whittle down his material so he releases focused material that is compelling to an audience outside of his hardcore fans. I am not saying that he needs to act like a chart obsessed pop princess but he should be aware that his muse needs to be sharper. Why should he listen to a guy who can't finish a review in the time it takes him to record two albums? Because I'm right. I followed him during his 180° turn with Animal Rights, the original UK rock version, and was one of the 6,000 worldwide who picked up Play the first week it was released. Stop flooding the market with singles full of mediocre remixes and get back to releasing music with real passion and purpose. The audience will find it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Flashback: Everything But The Girl Temperamental (1999)

I wrote this review for a college radio station a decade ago:

The stylistic makeover that began with their collaboration on Massive Attack's "Protection" is solidified on this album which firmly establishes EBTG's place among the electro-pop elite. Written while instrumentalist/songwriter Ben Watt was recovering from a life threatening illness, the melancholy disco songs of Temperamental, set to house, trip hop and drum 'n' bass beats, can be heard as music for the end to a long night out. The beats might be a bit generic, but the honesty of the songs coupled with Tracey Thorn's mesmerizing voice take the music to a level that is all it's own.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Rewind: A Decade Of The Pet Shop Boys

Originally published 1/25/10 this post was removed by blogger on November 19, 2010 after they received a DMCA complaint regarding this post. The complaint came from IFPI claiming the post is "offering direct links to files containing sound recordings for other users to download". This is simply not true. Every link contained in the post was to a streaming video of a song.
Read for yourself to decide if the IFPI is doing the artists it claims to represent a service by shutting down posts such as this:

As the decade began there were significant rumblings that the Pet Shop Boys might call it day.  Touching everything from country to disco this past decade Neil & Chris exhibited an energy few bands possess releasing three studio albums, fifteen singles, creating a musical, two Disco albums, embracing a new role as remixers and scoring a silent film soundtrack.  Let's take a look back on the last ten years with the Pet Shop Boys:

Single: "You Only Tell Me You Love Me When Your Drunk"
Remix: Fat Les 2000 "Jerusalem" & Bloodhound Gang "Mope"
Neil & Chris celebrated the arrival of the new century by closing out the wigged Nightlife-era with the country-flavored "You Only Tell Me You Love Me When Your Drunk".  The song's guitar solo was a sign of things to come on their next "proper" album and the two remixes the Boys did that year signaled another new interest that would last throughout the decade.

Produce: Closer To Heaven Soundtrack, The Collaboration "Break 4 Love"
With the help of playwright Jonathan Harvey the PSB proved they are the rare act actually able to get an original musical to the stage.  The show only had a short run and has an air of mystery to it since it was likely not professionally filmed (although some fan footage has surfaced on youtube).  The soundtrack reunited them with longtime collaborator Stephen Hague as co-producers of an album that features cast members on vocal duty.  With no singles released the project showed that Neil & Chris were willing to follow their own muse into uncommercial areas of personal interest.  More of that to come.

Album: Release
Single: "Home And Dry" "I Get Along" "London"
Radio:  Peel Session
An emerging electro scene bubbling up around them Pet Shop Boys naturally made their "rock" album.  While fans rank Release as the duo's worst the album has it's proponents like Rolling Stone who rate it tied for PSB's second best album behind Very.  Much attention has been given to the guitar heavy sound but the songwriting is lifeless compared to their usual standards and the odd track selection left gems like "I Didn't Get Where I Am Today" as future b-side material.  Fortunately a Peel Session at the end of the year proved they still had plenty more to give including material that still has not yet been released.

Album: Disco 3
Compilation: PopArt
Single: "Miracles"
Produce: Kiki Kokova "Love To Love You, Baby"
Remix: Yoko Ono "Walking On Thin Ice" & Atomizer "Hooked On Radiation"
Write: Alcazar "Love Life"
On the surface the announcement of Disco 3 seemed to be an admission that the Boys had run out of ideas, but the actual product proved to be rather amazing.  Throwing out the rules of previous Disco installments the album is a fifty-fifty mix of new electro infused songs with mixes from the likes of electroclash leader Felix Da Housecat resulting in a satisfying album that knows how to get down.  They further signaled their approval for the new electro movement by producing an underground Donna Summer cover and remixing Atomizer and Yoko Ono.  Lending a song to Swedish eurodance outfit Alcazar the PSB then compiled an updated singles collection that featured two new tracks including the epic "Miracles" that proved they still had strong singles in them.

Single: "Flamboyant"
Remixed:  Rammstein "Mein Teil"
Produce: Pete Burns "Jack And Jill Party"
The celebrity culture skewering second single from PopArt is top form PSB and the single featured a remix from the Scissor Sisters right before they became stars in their own right.  The Boys next move was to record a fantastic underground electro track with Dead Or Alive's Pete Burns shortly before he resurfaced to mainstream attention on Celebrity Big Brother.  They rounded out the year with an unexpected remix for German industrial rock band Rammstein.

Album: Battleship Potemkin Soundtrack
Compile: Back To Mine
First performed live at Trafalgar Square in 2004 there is nothing pop about this largely instrumental soundtrack to Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 silent film.  An experiment in creating continuous music for images it is the Boys first album to be released on a classical label which caused confusion among fans not used to the composer first format that put Tennant/Lowe atop the album design.  Interestingly a DVD release of the eighty year old film, often described as communist propaganda, has been held up due to a dispute over the rights.  They also curated an installment of the popular Back To Mine compilation series that gave a disc each to Neil & Chris.

Album: Fundamental
Single: "I'm With Stupid" "Minimal" "Numb"
Produce: Robbie Williams "She's Madonna" & "We're The Pet Shop Boys"
Remix: Madonna "Sorry"
Live Album: Concrete
Documentary: A Life In Pop
Reunited with legendary producer Trevor Horn the PSB attempted to make sense of the post-9/11 world in an album that was hailed as a return to form.  If they had included the Richard X-produced bonus track "Fugitive" and the b-sides "The Resurrectionist" & "Bright Young Things" it would have been a classic disc.  They found time to contribute a couple of tracks to Robbie Williams Rudebox but it was a high point that the Boys remixed Madonna after nearly twenty years of anticipating working with her.  Their mix went on to become the way Madge performed the song on her tour.  As the subject of a well produced documentary featuring a number of musicians testifying to the power of their pop the year also saw the Pet Shop Boys release their first live album.

Album: Disco 4
Single: "Integral"
Remix: The Killers "Read My Mind"
Changing the rules of the Disco series again Neil & Chris showcased their remixes of other artists material on Disco 4.  The album gave them the opportunity to release their first download-only single "Integral" which many consider the strongest single pick from Fundamental.

Produce: Sam Taylor-Wood "I'm In Love With A German Film Star"
Co-write: Girls Aloud "The Loving Kind" The Killers "Joseph, Better You Than Me"
Remix: MGMT "Kids"
Their production of Sam Taylor-Wood's take on The Passions "I'm In Love With A German Film Star" and a leaked MGMT remix made some waves but the highlight of the year was the PSB's first collaboration with Xenomania that may have caused the "disinclined" Girls Aloud to look for a dictionary.

Album: Yes
Single: "Love, Etc" "Did You See Me Coming?" "Beautiful People" Christmas EP
Remix: Lady Gaga "Eh, Eh (Nothing More I Can Say)"
Write: West End Girls "A Little Black Dress" & Shirley Bassey "The Performance Of My Life"
The year kicked off well enough with Neil & Chris accepting a lifetime award and performing a career spanning megamix at the Brits but they weren't looking back.  Producers Xenomania helped the Boys create Yes which Neil accurately described as sounding like a greatest hits album.  Despite a plethora of potential singles their label made some odd decisions like making the second single a b-side of the first single and generally not giving the album promotional push it deserves.  Their own tribute group West End Girls borrowed a previously unrecorded song for a single and the legendary Shirley Bassey received a new composition for her high profile comeback album.  They performed Stuart Price assisted mash-up versions of their hits on a world spanning tour while wearing boxes on their heads and wrapped up some loose ends with the Christmas EP which saw them take on one of the decades biggest rock groups and finally properly release a fan favorite seasonal track that premiered nearly a decade before.

:  Where do they go from here?  A live DVD and album is planned for February and there are at least two major single contenders so far untouched from Yes.  Hopefully their label will see the light and get at least one of those out there with a proper video.  Neil & Chris did some initial work on an original ballet, have talked about doing another musical and there are rumors of a collection of collaborations as well another b-side compilation.  Whatever they do commit to it is sure to be interesting.