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.