Robyn, Röyksopp, and the Land of Ice Castles

The gate to Annie's recording studio

Perhaps it is telling that the first piece of music I ever purchased was Ace of Base’s The Sign, or perhaps not, considering it was purchased in 1994, when Ace of Base was ubiquitous, and I was 9 years old. But to this day, I enjoy few things as well as an ice-crystal clear, mellifluously melodious Scandopop song.

I’ve always imagined that Scandinavian producers hide out in ice castles, and wear ultra-sleek polar gear to stay warm while recording. They probably go ice fishing for lunch (fresh salmon roll, y’all?) and take photographs of polar bears in between takes.

In what is either a racial accident*** or a very cultivated cultural kinship, the electropop coming out of the northern lands is slick, clean and gorgeous, from Abba onward. Their synths are sharp and pure enough to cut ice, their voices sweet and warm enough to melt the above mentioned palace. The only relevant antithesis is The Knife, who have rebelled by using distortion and reverb as a miserable, sloppy fuck-you to all their shiny brethren. Honestly The Knife may have more in common with metal dudes, aesthetically speaking, than they do, say, Röyksopp.

Which brings me to my point. Fucking Röyksopp. I always saw their foreign name, their umlaut, and thought, that is something Swedish that I don’t have the energy to get into. But today I heard the second best Robyn song ever, and she made it with Röyksopp last year. It’s called: THE GIRL AND THE ROBOT.

You know you’re in for something epic when the song starts with a Wagnerian chorale and a pummeling beat. Robyn uses her signature sincere, love-lorned phrasing to describe her crazy-in-love-love for a robot. This is all wonderfully hilarious and meta, considering the subject matter of Robyn’s other songs.

“The Girl and the Robot” is what emotion sounds like from the north: rigorous structure, strings for added emotional impact, and, most notably, thematic content related to the love between human and machine.

All in all, perhaps we can read Robyn’s all-out yearning for a goddamn robot as Scando’s ballz-out love for machines; after all, without the synthesizer, where would their music be?***

Sometimes you just want to escape to their land of ice castles and clear-cut yearning/hurt/loss/love. In a gray, dirty, humid, windy city such as this, and in the disgusting haze of emotion that is life, isn’t it a comfort to know that something of such idyllic cleanliness and clarity of intent exists somewhere?

***Please keep in mind, this is all facetious, I am not sincerely proposing a racial theory.

just a thought: FRED FALKE AINT SHIT

Daftpop may have been concerned with high-falutin and academic topics since the new year began, but eventually all momentum yields to inertia, and what goes up must come down, etc, etc. What plagues me now is something very silly, something irrelevant. I just need to know: Fred Falke, why? Maybe someone more acquainted with dance genres can explain to me why, why this man remixes songs.

Sure, sure, Fred Falke is a really good French bassist genius whatever. They say he is a remixer extraordinaire. But everyone seems to be ignoring the fact that pretty much every song Fred Falke has ever remixed is destroyed in the process; the original material is stripped of all its particular properties and rendered unto the communal spirit of all Fred Falke remixes. It doesn’t matter if it’s 1998, 2008 or 2047, a Fred Falke is unaffected by time and trend. IN A BAD WAY. The formula is something like this: lightening-strike arpeggio-ed synths up high (sequencing, I think?), a little New Romantic/m83 synth work in a lower key to provide a lush electric backdrop; a bumping funk bass, and that’s it.

What is the goal of remixing a song? It is to scramble, highlight and recontextualize a song we already know. Sometimes remixes make the song better, because the new mix seems to hit on some ideal quality that the original producer just couldn’t draw out of the song (see: Clipse’s Mr. Me Too z.a.k. remix, vs the Pharrell album version). But you know what? Fred Falke just puts all his remixes in the context of Fred Falke!!! This is just ridiculous musical egoism. Get over yourself, for serious!

Here are some examples:

Ladyhawke: Back of the Van (FRED FALKE REMIX)

The Whitest Boy Alive: Golden Cage (FRED FALKE REMIX)

Here are some more examples where Fred Falke ruins a good song by making it 1,000 hours long:

Grizzly Bear: Two Weeks (FRED FALKE REMIX)

Annie: Anthonio (FRED FALK REMIX)

Annie Stops, Then Stops Stopping

Annie Dont Stop
I'm so magical, I got electronic stuff free flowing from my hands

Remember Annie?!? I do. I have held a flame in my heart for her since “Heartbeat” in 2005. It was my crossover dance hit, the song that ripped me from my rocking origins and launched me into new electronic territory. “Heartbeat” spoke to me in a way that Kylie’s coyness never did; it felt startlingly first-person and personal, and seemed to sum up those zany nights in a cold European club, when the sweat and the booze and the beat make it seem like you’ve found true love in your dancing partner. JK! I’ve never had those nights, but I feel that I have, via that song.

I have listened to that song hundreds of times over the years, and the heartbeat bassline never ceased to stir my heartstrings. Then, once, when I had access to a stereo with four speakers, I heard a new layer previously unknown to me–that of the optimistic, popping, upward guitar lick. It renewed my love of that song for another two years.

Last year, Don’t Stop leaked and my then-bf got it for me from the Internetz, since, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t know and don’t care to learn how to get things for free from the Internetz.  I was awful disappointed with the album, with the exception of “Song Reminds Me of You,” which, on my ripped version, was the last song. My itunes marks it as the 2nd most listened to song (next to Jay-Z’s “I Know”). I wondered why Annie couldn’t have made a few more songs like that one.

“Song Reminds Me of You” is a song about love lost and embittered, and then has that extra meta “song about a song and songwriter writing songs” element. Annie is often chided for being girlish and childish or whatever, but this common criticism ignores her many wonderful lyrical pop devices; her song concepts are calculated and smart, y’all. “Heartbeat” is about a stirring beat and is a stirring beat; the same goes for “Song Reminds Me of You,” which is about a third party hearing a song he wrote for someone he’s no longer with and is also a song about that same dude, a person she no longer is with. DEEP, DUDE.

Annie’s real version of Don’t Stop allegedly comes out November 17th. Let’s hope this time she chooses to nevergonnadontstop (shout out to partymoose).

Scandinavian Pop Artists Enthralled by Blood-filled, Beating Hearts

Pop's Most Precious Geniuses Come From This Landmass
Pop's Most Precious Geniuses Come From This Landmass

You know something? Scandinavians sure love singing about heartbeats. I have long thought it was weird that perhaps the two best songs from Scandinavia from the last few years were called “Heartbeat” and “Heartbeats.” But add to that list another really good Scando song, “With Every Heartbeat,” and you’ve got a weird confluence of heartbeats and Scandinavia going on.

Maybe the bodily warmth associated with increased blood flow and cardiovascular uptick is especially appealing to inhabitants of the frozen north. Or maybe Scandinavians are fixated on heartbeats because non-native English singers seem to gravitate toward the mainstays of lyrical content–hearts, being a fool for love, dancing. Or, um, not those things. But I ain’t accusing anyone of poor or uncreative use of language! On the contrary, I am praising the Scandinavians for carrying the torch and capturing the idiosyncrasies of pop language at its finest.

In this day and age, how can we compete with those crystalline waters and cold Nordic mountain springs? Those squeaky clean productionz? That purity of intent?

Beyond their titles, Annie’s “Heartbeat,” The Knife’s “Heartbeats” and Robyn’s “With Every Heartbeat” don’t have that much in common lyrically. Annie and Robyn are definitely of the same school, except that everyone always makes a big deal out of Annie’s coldness (people just can’t stand emotional aloofness in a woman; she should be HOT, not COLD!), and Robyn has sincerity oozing out of her perfect Aryan pores. I will not even pretend to understand what The Knife spend their time singing about. Their music haunts you like an Ibsen play; Heartbeats, in its surging excitement, expresses the closest thing they’ve got to a tangible human emotion.

Anyway, listen to the three tracks linked in this post and enjoy.