Several Songs Daftpop Enjoys Right Now: The Series, Part II

Young Jeezy: Only like Malcolm X if his motto was "buy any jeans necessary"

Well gee, it’s been a minute since I wrote on this blog. I’ve been sitting, thumbs a-twiddle, waiting for bloggerly inspiration to come for weeks now. Finally I realized that I of all people should know that blogs need not be the medium for deep thoughts (for instance, my last post was about Clash of the Titans).

In accordance with my lack of inspiration, and perhaps my recent lack of sophistication, I will discuss some notable songs of the moment… Ahem.

Welcome to Several Songs Daftpop Enjoys Right Now, The Series! (It needs a better title, but I’m working on it. Woman can only do so much in between work deadlines, smoke breaks and caring for needy dogs.)

1. Jeezy feat. Clipse: “Illin

Jeezy’s got a new mixtape out, for anyone who cares. I don’t, but I stumbled upon this track, and was taken aback by its sonic otherness. “Illin” features an insanely warbled, gnarly violin sample; it’s something from your nightmares, or maybe a zombie debutante ball in Baton Rouge, 1914. Jeezy’s husky, lumbering flow rarely conveys much of anything; the content of his rhymes is often self-aggrandizing bullshit, sometimes heart attacks, and one time about black presidents and blue Italian sports cars. But here, Jeezy is forced to hustle a little due to the presence of his guests, the every-day-they’re-hustlin’ rappers of Clipse. Jeezy + Clipse makes for a visceral clash of personalities; Jeezy’s verse is essentially about how effortless being him/being rich is, while Malice and Pusha sound anguished and paranoid, per usual. If only Clipse could learn a little something from the dumb self-assuredness of Jeezy, and Jeezy could maybe get a little writerly ambition from Clipse… then everyone would win.

2. Freddie Gibbs: “Crushin’ Feelins

To some, Freddie Gibbs is some 2009 hype; to others, he is the future of hip hop. To make a long story short: Gibbs is from Gary, but currently lives in LA. He is something of a classicist gangsta rapper. His beats aren’t all that dope, but he can double-time it like Twista and spins the most eloquent of street elegies. And oh yeah, he’s performing at P4k this summer. Weird!!! It can be hard to know where to start with 3.0 rappers like Gibbs–dude has no proper studio album or radio singles, just some mixtapes, all of which are epic in length–so where to begin? Start here, with “Crushin’ Feelins.” In less than four minutes of breathless, glorious raps over the fucking smoothest guitar ever, Gibbs tells you everywhere he’s lived, states his life goals, talks up his skills, and most importantly, explains everything you need to know about him: that he can “easily bring you defeat with [his] vernacular” and is “too deep in the streets to be beefin’ with other rappers.”

3. Drake: “Over

I never thought I’d cop to liking a Drake song, but here I am. While I don’t relish the concept of “Over,” (which is yet another navel-gazing extravaganza and features several of his fucking imbecilic non sequitur couplets) the scuttle-shuttle of the beat that drops at 30 seconds is as beautiful a thang I’ve heard on the radio in a while.

4. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti: “Beverly Kills

Pop bliss! “Beverly Kills” is a scatterbrained but marvelously melodic ditty recalling psychedelic Californian summers, like an acid trip at someone’s 60’s hippie party in L.A. Or something. Anyway, AP’sHG might be poster-children of lofi-ness, but a friend recently commented to me that there is something very deliberate in their aesthetic; lofi for them is not tossed off or motivated by a sort of punk recklessness: it’s a production choice , a wonderful mindfulness of what is being evoked by certain sounds. This song is yet another good example of this phenom; plus, it’s just good, silly fun.

5. M.I.A.: “XXXO

I love M.I.A. so much that I get sort of befuddled when I have to talk about her. Ever a monitor of the postmodern condition, M.I.A. here comments on the identity-eroding properties of modern telecommunications. I am glad I received this warning from M.I.A.,  because I almost wrote this entire post in internet lingo and emoticons. JK! She sings in a lifeless monotone against a backdrop of menacing (if somewhat conventional) electropop. “XXXO,” both the song title and the clutch of letters meant to represent a kiss, are M.I.A.’s shorthand for the ways in which we are dehumanized by technology. The lyrics aren’t very cohesive, but the whole is suggestive: “you want me be someone who I’m really not,” “cuz everytime we try to get close/there’s always something I’m  thinking about,” “if you like what you see/you can download and store.” Seduction and the possibility of love have been reduced to a mechanization, a screen touch, a tapping away on T9.

6. Robyn “Dancing On My Own

Apart from being Swedish, looking sorta gay, and having hot shit producers, there is yet one other element that separates Robyn from the baser spectrum of pop. This is the vulnerable and self-aware emotional center of her lyrics. I suppose this center does not always hold, especially when you consider the embarrassing lyrical content and rapping affectations of “Konichiwa Bitches,” which would have benefited from some self-awareness. But in her best songs–“With Every Heartbeat,” “The Girl and The Robot,” and now “Dancing on My Own”–Robyn acknowledges, in uncomfortable detail, the desperation and various humiliations involved in being a lover scorned. She dances on her own in this ditty, whose narrative concerns going to the club in order to see her recent ex get busy with his new woman: “yeah, i know it’s stupid/but i just got to see it for myself.” She then gets shit faced and, after stumbling over some broken bottles in stilettos, the world starts spinning off its axis. By song end, it ain’t hard to imagine our song’s heroine falling flat on her lovely YET STILL REJECTED face. My suggestion is that Robyn get with also-frequently-embarrassedly-in-love/fellow Swede Jens Lekman, and then they can make sweet music together until they die.

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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.

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.