Victoria Hesketh has an unabashed love of pop music. her YouTube channel is filled with covers of verse-chorus-verse groups as diverse as Hot Chip, Alphabeat, Haddaway, and will.i.am. As leader of the short-lived Dead Disco, she did a more-than-passable Deborah Harry fronting the Killers and made a few records that were the basis for some fine remixes, but it’s the four tracks on her Arecibo EP that grabbed my attention. I’m not normally one to fete someone with such a thin discography, but there’s something simultaneously celebratory and revelatory about the four tracks (“Meddle” and “Stuck On Repeat,” appear in their original and remixed forms) on her debut.
Throughout the too-short record, snatches of the purest Eurocheese from the deepest caves meet the no-wave sound of New York 1979 while the analog synths and cheap handclaps of Italodisco provide the backing and on top of it is one of the most perfectly pop voices I’ve heard – upbeat, maybe a little Kate Bush in parts, but with just enough oomph to sell the chorus. I really do get the feeling that she’s onto something, particularly if she continues to work with Joe Goddard from Hot Chip (them again – I have a whole theory about their parts being greater than the sum) and Greg Kurstin, who’s produced Lily Allen and Kylie (as well as Dead Disco.)
You know how everybody loves The Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible and gush about how their best songs have this sweep and are really huge and then the band manages to come up with these tiny intimate moments that are really rewarding? That’s how I felt about the Friendly Fires album.
The live version here is pretty much missing the female backup vocal, which I very much like. There’s a remix (I’d more properly call it a ground-up revision) that features Au Revoir Simone that I enjoy almost as much as the original, for completely different reasons. I bet you could find that pretty easily on Elbo.ws.
It’s all about that break. Everything else, the overused autotune, the off-key vocals warbling some flimsy lyrics, the piano riff that’s pretty amateurish? Completely secondary to that break. 808s and Heartbreaks is one of the most frustrating listens I had in 2008: it comes so close, so frequently, but never quite hits the marks set by those thundering drums.
(For the record, “Paranoid” and “Robocop” are the other standouts for me. The first recalls that weird period in the mid-80s when everyone made synthpop but called it something else, and “Robocop” is just so misbegotten and over the top that the Trevor Horn fan in me wants to embrace it as a magnificently flawed masterpiece.)
Over a decade after their eponymous second album and the butt of many jokes about their productivity, Portishead confidently strode back into the spotlight with an abrasive, mechanical single that declared that their interest in trip hop, a genre they kick-started with Dummy, was well and truly dead. “Machine Gun” owes more to Can and early Kraftwerk than Isaac Hayes and Lalo Schifrin, mining Krautrock’s interesting bits effectively and fusing it with the strong structure and songwriting that set Portishead far apart from wannabes like Ruby and Sneaker Pimps.
A lot of what I’m calling “The New Pop” shares some similar DNA: the good bits of 80s acts like Wham! and the innumerable hordes that were unleashed from the Stock Aiken Waterman stockade. New Zealand’s Pip Brown started out playing in grunge bands before moving closer to punk with Two Lane Blacktop and into electronic pop with Teenager before embracing the pop she’d grown up with and recording under an alias shared by Rutger Hauer’s best collaboration with Matthew Broderick. “I wanted to make music that could put a smile on people’s faces and give them a feeling of nostalgia even though they may be hearing my songs for the first time,” Brown wrote in her biography on the Ladyhawke website.
That’s what “Paris Is Burning” is – instantly familiar, catchy, harkening back to a dozen other songs while aping none of them. Is it wildly experimental or blazing new territory? No, but it is utterly listenable, something I rank higher and higher as I get settled into my twilight years.
Sometimes a well-put-together piece of pop music wears its influences on its sleeve, other times it’s outright built from the same records wholesale. With a whopping 35 tracks sliced, trimmed, and crammed into its four-and-a-quarter-minutes length, it’s a testament to Greg Gillis’s skills as a listener as much as his abilities as a producer that “What It’s All About” holds together as well as it does. The man’s seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of the last 40 years of radio allows him to see juxtapositions and moments that would elude most people.
I’ve mentioned previously that I think of him as party music and don’t hold the Girl Talk project in the same vaunted “transformative art” position that many people do, but I’ll gladly put this on my top ten tracks list all the same.Â It’s infectious, celebratory, and most of all, shamelessly pop.
For the curious, here’s a listing of every sample used, according to Wikipedia.
I love how this band, who produced the pleasant-but-forgettable Bright Like Neon Love, decided to kick the sophomore jinx in the ass with their second full length, In Ghost Colors. What stands out for me in Cut Copy’s material is their sincerity; so many of their contemporaries use irony to cover up faults in their songcraft, but Whitford, Hoey, and Scott treat the music just seriously enough to make it clear that they are interested in a career, not one or two singles. There’s hints of New Order (those basslines!) and Depeche Mode (Whitford’s not far away from Gahan on the vocalists-who-know-their-limits charts,) but they’re just that: hints. I love the melodic synth lines and the way the entire song builds to the chorus’s hands-in-the-air moments, a celebration of pop and the dancefloor that doesn’t seem to pander to either.
(Speaking of the dancefloor, there’s a Calvin Harris remix of this song that’s just amazing. It’s available, not properly labeled, on AmazonMP3.)