What I listened to on my summer vacation

martyn

Martyn
The Air Between Words
Ninja Tune

A quick scan over my mixes will confirm what you already suspected, that if I thought I could get away with it I would only ever mix Martyn tunes always. (Ok, maybe with a bit of Night Slugs and R&S’ roster in there as well.) He’s one of maybe three left-field/bass music producers whose embrace of four-four kick drums didnt feel like a concession, and The Air Between Words just cements his mastery. There’s a dusty, from-the-catacombs air to choons like “Like That,” whose erotic moans and swishy house piano mixed with a gloomy baseline sounds like Lil Louis’ “French Kiss” remade for a rainy day in Wales. And the languid Fender Rhodes-isms of “Drones” are perfectly offset by the insistent groove, which never lets the track sink into melancholia or pander to baser instincts. That’s really the genius of Martyn in a nutshell: capturing a feeling of unease or tension while keeping the music itself animated and alive.  Or maybe its just my overpowering urge to drop something dark and stormy like “Forgiveness Step 2” at peak time, turn the lights down – except for maybe a strobe – and see what happens.

prinsthomas

Prins Thomas
III
Full Pupp

Apparently Prins Thomas loathes the phrase “cosmic disco,” which makes me think it means something different from what he thinks it means. I read it as Kosmiche disco, a descendant of Can and other outfits bent on bringing experimental sensibilities to whatever cool shit was happening, including but not only dance music. If the definition of the subgenre doesn’t include a cut like the echo-laden, circular synth riff-driven, rolling drum hypnosis that is “Trans,” I don’t know what the hell you’d call it. In some ways this is the most stripped down of the three solo discs; it’s the most cerebral, but “cerebral” in the sense that, while the language it speaks isn’t really of the dance floor, it is viscerally intense. Not to mention sexy – I was struggling for a metaphor for bass lines that didn’t involve asses in skin-tight leather, and then I gave up, and here we are. Still. People forget that the brain is biggest erogenous zone, you know.

minerva

Maria Minerva
Histrionic
Not Not Fun

Dubby bass, hazy layers of sample smog, a singer who sounds like  she’s talking in her sleep, how can you go wrong? Even now I’m not sure. Maria Minerva seized my attention with the DIY tape underground diva vibe of Cabaret Cixous – Toronto, there are three vinyl copies in Rotate This’ deep discount bin, which tells you how many people shared my affection – and a little more polish shouldn’t have gone astray. But Histrionic always seems to be beguilingly on the verge of getting good, and after a few listens, the fact that it never does gets damnably annoying. Not even a cheeky flip of a Pet Shop Boys lyric could dispel the air half-assed art schoolism. Go away and take your sub-Lana Del Rey schtick with you.

Top 5 Faux-EDM Pop Songs That Won’t Drive You To Kitchen Tool-Related Violence

 

5. Pitbull f Ne Yo – Give Me Everything

Wait didn’t I say in that other EDM post that Pitbull was like the saddest excuse for a “musician” since they made John Travolta sing in Grease? Well, kind of. And I would be fairly happy to have him scrubbed from my memory Total Recall-style, or just via a mild head injury. But many great 90s Euro cheese singles had useless eaters “rapping” on their tracks, and sometimes they moved the cut forward. They just didn’t get top billing over Ne-Yo, who carries an excruciatingly catchy melody through a series of chord changes and production fillips from Dutch producer Afrojack so that every 16 bars feels like a different song. Every time I think “this hook is going to get really annoying,” they switch it up and do something else. When the song ends, you’re like, “that’s it?”

4. Icona Pop ft Charli XCX – I Love It

I might be fairly accused of not giving the (usually female) front-people credit for the songs that work, and privileging the work of the (usually male) producer. Which is a fair cop, although I think we could rectify this by allowing me to have sex with whoever I want, in which case I would be much more agreeable in general. At any rate, producer Patrik Berger might have done a bunch of other great tunes including Robyn’s Dancing On My Own, but he’s not what makes this track work. It’s all in the chant by the Icona Pop ladies. This is the best song to yell along with since Ben Folds Five’s Song For The Dumped, or possibly Toni Basil’s Hey Mickey, and has probably already caused/inspired more vehicular accidents than Thelma and Louise. Tell me this song wouldn’t be the perfect soundtrack for bumper cars.

3. Britney Spears – I Wanna Go

Nothing can keep Brit Brit down, even if she is a shell of her former batshit crazy self. Every album produces number one hits, and whatever her failings as a celebrity burnout (as in, she’s a much less entertaining walking clusterfuck than she used to be), she knows how to pick collaborators. The unfuckwithable Max Martin and his current producer du jour, Shellback, have the wisdom to make Britney the star of the track while still layering in all kinds of production tricks like those delightful stuttered vocals on the chorus. Also: whistling. Why don’t more pop songs have whistling? And what ever happened to baseball cards that came with gum? PS I am old.

2. LMFAO – Party Rock Anthem

It actually physically pains me to praise anything LMFAO do, except for that one fight with Mitt Romney on an airplane which was probably the best act of civil disobedience a celebrity has ever been involved with. But praise them we must, along with man-behind-the-curtain GoonRock, because despite being more brain-dead than a zombie Kelly Osbourne, LMFAO have somehow made one of the decade’s great floor-fillers. And you can’t just credit the production, even if that octave-jumping synth has launched a thousand songs I would rather punch myself in the nuts than ever hear again — it’s as much the little lyrical throws away like numb-nuts #1’s “every day I’m shufflin” or numb-nuts #2’s “alright stop… hatin is bad” that make the tune. OK so they made a good one. Now let us never speak of LMFAO again. Please.

1. Rihanna – Where Have You Been

Whenever I am in the position of defending pop music’s inherent value to the great unwashed (rock fans and/or old people), I often think of bringing up this song, but don’t. For one thing, mentioning Rihanna and her air-horn of a voice to pop skeptics is like waving a bag of Cheetos in front of a stoner – it confuses them and makes them lunge at you, then forget what they were doing and sit down awkwardly. I digress. But more pertinently, Where Have You Been is the song to play for pop haters who like dance music, because aside from having an excellent vocal from Ri Ri, such as it is (she has a style, it’s instantly recognizable, and she uses her full vocal range here for once), this is an absolutely impeccable dance music production. The build-up through the first minute and a half is as epic as anything those mayonnaise-on-fries-eating tools from Rotterdam have ever come up with, from the gradual un-filtering of the kick to the stadium-sized synth stabs and finally the pure acieeed 303 squelch that eventually takes over the track and leads you into the next verse without making you realize the chorus is over until it’s long gone.

Seriously, this cut has everything, it’s a smorgasbord of rhythmic layering that just keeps relentlessly pushing upwards toward an orgasmic conclusion that’s always just around the next breakdown. AND they never get cringe-inducingly corny with it, which is more than you can say for pretty much every track with this much build that has ever been made. It’s hard to know from the laundry list of producers who did what, but Dr Luke and Cirkut (a Canadian, funnily enough, ex of mildly interesting former Last Gang signing Let’s Go To War), Calvin Harris and Ester Dean — all of them in possession of resumes that’d make a label exec hyperventilate — truly outdo themselves. Somewhere in pop music heaven this song is on constant repeat, probably on somebody’s fucking bullshit tinny-ass mobile phone speakers, but whatever. Fuck it, we’re done here.

 

5 faux-EDM Pop Songs That Make You Feel Like Someone Used A Melon Baller To Extract Your Eardrums

worst

5. Katy Perry, “Firework”

I don’t know about you but I often feel like a plastic bag being tossed around in the wind. Mostly when I was cueing this song up at gigs, because I think my ear drums were being battered to ribbons by the insanely hot mastering on the chorus. The only song I know of that is louder is Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend,” which is basically just a big slab of white noise with an insane harpy hollering all the way through, like a rancid cherry on top. “Firework” is more like a big slab of string-driven euro cheese whose origins are thinly camouflaged by Perry’s reference to the Fourth of July. Because what could be more American than a track cobbled together by French and Norwegian producers out of the dregs of 90s Dutch stadium trance? Freedom Fries for all!

4. Flo Rida, “Good Feeling”

The list of rappers Flo Rida has had more number one hits than is too long and distinguished to post here, not least because it’ll make you throw up. But really, that’s too harsh – these songs no more belong to Flo Rida than Super Cat was responsible for Sugar Ray’s “Fly.” “Good Feeling” is a Dr. Luke sample of an Avicii single with rapping on it, smashed cheek-by-jowl with an Etta James sample, and this fact is something I find really inspiring. If that many hands can shape one successful product without totally ruining it, the music industry surely is a wonderful thing. It might be the last truly democratic process in America. “I’m Bill Gates / It’d take a genius to understand me,” Flo Rida raps, and he is 1000% correct, because I have no idea WTF he is on about during the mercifully short portions of the song where he can be heard. Truly, it is the land of opportunity when any man can be on so many hits, no matter how utterly worthless, no matter what kind of useless eater he may happen to be. Hold up, I think I’m going to cry.

3. Usher, “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop”

I first heard this song blasting from a car one morning when the sun was coming up and I had been out all night. Between the stuttering vocals and Auto-Tune I thought either I, or Usher, was having a breakdown, one of our heads about to start spinning Exorcist-style and spewing bile from our ducts, flailing limbs, bugged out eyes, the whole nine. Then I heard the Billy Joel “Uptown Girl” hook awkwardly shoehorned into the chorus, like a sweaty hair gel commercial refugee at a club assaulting some unsuspecting office manager by jamming his package between her knees, and sweet, soothing rage caressed my temples. As I searched in vain for a large metal object like a tire iron to lay into the car’s occupants with, thinking to myself that perhaps the most offensive aspect of the tune is that Usher has the brass to issue a line like “I don’t like them groupie hoes, they be on my dick” while stifling the word “dick,” as though he was somehow being classy by refraining from saying the word yet still insulting women for showing interest in him, those little punks in the car playing the song peeled away and I was left fuming. All of this is to say that this song is a smoldering bag of hyena poop, and also that there should be more tire irons lying around.

2. Justin Bieber f Big Sean, “As Long As You Love Me”

Believe it or not, I am not the type of irritable basement-dwelling crank blogger who hates Bieber as a matter of principle, nor am I opposed to the phenomenon known as brostep. But whoever put them together is the music industry equivalent of the person who invented those sideway-hogging double-wide baby strollers: an enemy of humanity. Try to imagine the sound of a colicky baby being tossed into the middle of the wall of death at a Lamb of God show and you’ve only scratched the surface. It’s hard to decide which is worse, hearing Biebs call himself a soldier, or the digital yodel on the word “luh-luh-luh-luh-luh-love,” At least it’s a Big Sean-pretending-to-be-Drake cameo instead of an actual Drake cameo, otherwise I”d have to renounce my citizenship.

1. Pitbull f Christina Aguilera, “Feel This Moment”

Every generation needs its “Barbie Girl,” its “Blue (Da Ba Dee),” its “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” that one song that gives you carte blanche, violence-wise, toward any DJ who makes the catastrophic lapse in judgment of even thinking about playing it. The banality of evil indeed, with the emphasis on banal – it’s not even interesting in its total schlock. Pitbull does his Pitbull-no-speaka-English-but-I-learn-Mr.-Fawlty,-I-learn routine, then Xstina sings for her supper since noone is buying her records anymore, and an 80s hook (A-ha’s “Take On Me”) is dropped on top of the chorus like a grenade down an air vent. BOOM goes the dynamite, and then it’s all vocal fry all the time. Actually I lied, how could you not be totally fascinated at something that is worse than the sum of its parts, when its parts alone are kind of the worst things carbon-based life-forms have ever encountered, music-wise? I kind of want to probe it like one of those scientists in Independence Day, though it would probably find a way to break through the glass and dissolve my face by spitting acid at me and then ripping my limbs off and using them to record handclaps for a new single that samples “99 Luftballoons” and features Jennifer Lopez rapping legal disclosures from those prescription impotence drug commercials on CNN.