Getting Mashed In The Neutral Bling Hotel

I usually don’t bother with mashup albums unless I’m especially fond of and familiar with the base material, but for anyone else who has every note of Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea album indelibly etched in their mind AND a reasonable knowledge of popular hip-hop, Psycosis’s In My G4 Over Da Sea is well worth a listen.

The album doesn’t always succeed at finding the right balance between fairly maximalist hip-hop originals and the NMH sound (there is, for example, just too much going on in the opening mashup between “Ante Up” and “King Of Carrot Flowers pt 1”) but “King Of Jesus Walks, Pts 2 and 3” and “Look At The Two-Headed Boy” are much better blends.

When working with less complex hip-hop originals, the mashups work pretty well. I actually prefer “Communist Mic” over Nas’s original version of “One Mic” and was pleased to find that it was still possible to dougie (slowly) to “Oh Dougie”.

2011 Music: Song List

In keeping with my tradition of only managing to say anything about a year’s worth of music once the year in question is already over, here are my songs of note from 2011. As usual, a song doesn’t have to have been released as a single in order to get into this list, and I only feature a song in this list if it isn’t already from one of my favourite albums of the year.

In last year’s list I included some honourable mentions, which were songs that stood out to me but didn’t quite merit being described as my “best of” the year for various reasons. I like the idea so will continue it this year, with:

  • Look At Me Now (Chris Brown feat. Busta Rhymes and Lil’ Wayne): A lot of this song is a frustrating waste of a great beat, but Busta’s verse (starting 1.30) is one of those glorious virtuoso performances which you enjoy first for itself and then for the entertainment value of the million Youtube cover attempts it launched, such as Mac Lethal’s Cook With Me Now "pancakes” version.

  • I Will (Danny Brown): I don’t want to spoil it. Just listen to it. But not out loud unless you are in a rather permissive environment.

  • Edge Of Glory (Lady Gaga): There’s no way of explaining how I ended up following Lady Gaga’s career because I’m madly in love with her gay backup dancer without coming off as insane, is there? Perhaps in some other post. For present purposes, just believe me when I say I’m totally emotionally invested in the career of Mark Kanemura, former So You Think You Can Dance contestant, current Lady Gaga principal dancer, FOREVAH HOTTIE. He’s gone from “normal” backup dancer to someone Gaga obviously favours, and when she premiered the single on the American Idol finale featuring him prominently as the only dancer to appear and dance with her my heart nearly BURST WITH JOY, although I will admit that his lack of clothing might also have contributed to that feeling of imminent pulmonary failure. Every subsequent live performance of the song has also featured him dirty dancing with Gaga in various states of undress, which is why I have 19 Edge Of Glory performance videos saved on my hard drive. The earlier link is to the American Idol performance for sentimentality’s sake (skip to 2:40 to see Mark), but to get a better idea of why I am insane I recommend you watch this lovely compilation instead.

And now the songs proper:

  • Do It Like A Dude (Jessie J): If you commanded me to dissolve and reconstruct myself as a pop star, and gave me the requisite magical powers with which to do so, this would be my debut single and video. (I know the song is borderline 2010/2011 but I only heard it in 2011 and love it too much not to feature it here somewhere.)


  • Try To Sleep (Low): The album this came from felt like a retread of the most accessible bits of Low’s past work, which I found disappointing after the curveball of righteous electronic anger that was Drums And Guns (my favourite Low album, which would also have been featured here as my favourite album of 2007 if I’d ever got round to writing that list). But at least when a band like Low decides to do "accessible", they sometimes end up giving you the prettiest little bit of twinkly harmonized accessibility you could ever imagine.

  • The Other Shoe (Fucked Up): You don’t really expect an established hardcore punk band to decide all of a sudden to feature pretty girly harmonies in their songs, or for a song with chief lyrical takeaway of "DYING ON THE INSIDE! DYING ON THE INSIDE!" to be so damn catchy, but Fucked Up is kinda special that way. (The album this is from is hands-down the best guitar album of the year but it’s so intense that I can’t actually handle listening to it all in one go, so it won’t feature on my album list.)

  • Lose Yourself (Astro): Far and away the best contestant from the inaugural season of X-Factor USA, 15 year old rapper Astro first caught my attention with his ballsy audition but truly gained my admiration once the live rounds started by using each song he was supposed to "cover" as little more than a sonic template upon which to perform his own rap verses – essentially writing his own new material each week. America likes its reality show hamsters meek, humble and preferably with a sob story, so I suppose this swaggerific performance (my favourite of the whole season) explains why he didn’t make it as far as he deserved in the competition.

  • Love Out Of Lust (Lykke Li): I agonized over whether to feature this or the near-perfect Ronettes revivalism of Sadness Is A Blessing, but in the end my choice was emotional – Russ introduced Love Out Of Lust to me on our roadtrip through New England, I loved it immediately, and I love the memory of listening to it in the rental car, our little space of moody poignant beauty racing forward on a vast sunny American highway.

  • No Church In The Wild (Kanye West & Jay-Z): In the same strange way that last year’s Kanye album went from underwhelming me to blindsiding me as my favourite album of the year, I found this unremarkable until I suddenly found its propulsive beat and enigmatic lyrics utterly compelling. The production is reminiscent of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, especially in the use of the vocal samples, which is to say it is distinctive and unexpected in a way no one else is doing quite as well as Kanye.

  • A Thousand Years (Christina Perri): Yes, I seriously like this. No, I’m not into Twilight. What can I say, I enjoy West Coast Swinging to this song and find its lyrics rather romantic. I suppose I am a bit of a sap for this idea of love that makes the passage of time feel like an afterthought – I did start welling up on the bus the first time I heard Magnetic Fields’ It’s Only Time, which had a somewhat similar idea.

  • Skyscraper (Demi Lovato): Yes, I seriously like this. No, I haven’t lost my edge. Yes, I’ve totally lost my edge. Let’s move on.

  • Snowflake (Kate Bush): Kate took over a decade’s break from music to raise her son Bertie, and he duets with her here at age 13. It was worth the wait. Bertie’s lines are those of the titular snowflake falling from the sky, his unbroken voice taking on the high, pure notes we might have expected to hear issuing from his mother years ago. Meanwhile, Kate whispers and wheedles from the waiting earth: "The world is so loud / Keep falling / I’ll find you". Perhaps this sounds twee. It is not. It is bloody beautiful, and like nothing you would ever hear from anyone that wasn’t Kate Bush.

  • Marka (Dub Phizix and Skeptical feat. Strategy): This song is what you would get if you analyzed my brain and wrote an instruction manual for how to press every single one of my dance music buttons. Also, I rarely bother watching music videos but with this one I’m transfixed every time.

Weeknd Music For Rainy Workdays

If you can’t be snuggled up in bed gazing at the water droplets on the window and enjoying alternate whiffs of rain-fresh air and your blanket, you have to hope at least for a little personal space on public transport (I got a seat today!) and some music that simultaneously captures the pathos of the situation and takes you away from it. For all the rainy mornings after the best nights of your life, when you still have to drag yourself out of bed and go to work, The Weeknd made this album (downloadable for free at their website!) for you, the bereft but surviving. It’s so gonna turn up on TV series soundtracks.

This morning I basically just put the whole album on and stared moodily out of the bus window at the drenched world beyond, but if you prefer your emo moments to be song-length only, then I highly recommend:

  • The Morning: The morning after R. Kelly’s Ignition.[1. And speaking of Ignition, if you haven’t already read this classic ILM thread where John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats goes completely nuts about the song, you really should.]

  • Wicked Games: Would have belonged on Kanye’s 808s And Heartbreak if Kanye could actually sing as well as The Weeknd’s vocalist. Trust me, you have never heard the words “Let me see that ass” sung with such anguish.

2010 Album List

As obviously belated as this list is, I’m still relieved I managed at least to post it within the first quarter of 2011. Let me trot out the usual disclaimers – one, I wish I could do the sort of critique that a real reviewer would rather than keep dwelling in my personal and fairly idiosyncratic reactions to the music, but if I tried that I wouldn’t finish this till 2015. Two, as always, I am a slow listener who often doesn’t manage to listen to albums the year they’re released, so shout at me if you think I’ve missed something out and maybe you’ll see it on the 2011 list! (For that matter, two albums that would’ve been on the 2009 list if I’d listened to them then are Two Fingers’ album of the same name and Fuck Buttons’ Tarot Sport.)

Phosphene Dream (The Black Angels): I don’t like every single one of the influences that this band wears on its sleeve, but the extent of the genre-hopping it manages with relative success in just ten songs is quite impressive. The upbeat tracks here aren’t to my taste, but the dark loud ones make up for it. Title track Phosphene Dream garlands lead singer Alex Maas’s vocals with oscillating distortion, punctuated with shrieks. River Of Blood starts with a balls-out feedback assault, then chills out a bit in the verses, then launches into a smackdown chorus of arena-shaking riffage, then dives into a filthy chaotic swamp of noise. My favourite is Entrance Song, which complements its swaggering, chanted verses with a wordless, strangely hypnotic vocal riff as chorus. In the fictional biopic of my life as a seminal rockstar even more committed to leatha than Stella from Project Runway season 5, it soundtracks the (slo-mo, grainy black and white) montage of me looking badass as I walk to the stage for the gig that will seal my destiny.

Tons Of Friends (Crookers): As a general rule, an album with “featuring” appended to any track should be immediately dismissed. But like anyone you know in real life with tons of friends, it’s often the case that some of those friendships will be inexplicable. Thankfully, at least some of Crookers’ other pals here are appealing enough for me to accept that apart from that one dude, I’d probably enjoy their house parties. We Love Animals establishes right from the start that partying is pretty much the raison d’etre of this album and The Very Best’s sparkling bridge on Birthday Bash reminds me why they made my favourite album of 2009, but the upfront populism of these songs shouldn’t detract from how well much of the album straddles the sweet spot between catchiness and creativity. In Hip-Hop Changed, Rye Rye raps “they say hip-hop changed, but you know we still talk that language” over a tapestry of synths that segues into dubstep, Have Mercy gives Carrie Wilds a twisted melody to pwn amidst fathoms of sick murky bass, and I can only guess that Royal T was titled in honour of them asking Roisin Murphy to come be their disco / house / techno / dubstep diva and her graciously agreeing to fucking rule.

Sit Down, Man (Das Racist) (downloadable free at their site!): Das Racist’s utterly distinctive flow involves all kinds of fun with words and then some, weaving wacky free-association rhymes with erudite allusions into rich goofy tapestries of verse most of us would need several volumes’ worth of annotations to fully grasp. As can be expected from their name, race is never far from the mix, whether they’re scatting around the sound of “melanin” in All Tan Everything or dropping great lines like “See me grace the pages of your favourite Conde Nast publication / They asked me all about my views on relations of races / And cut out the radical shit for space” in Rapping 2 U, which is also a production highlight for the interesting stuff it does with what sounds like looped J-pop. Music geeks are well catered for too, with Rooftop yielding a moment of pure nerd nirvana when the hook from Nas’ Made You Look (already foreshadowed in the title of the song and one of the earlier lines) shows up surreally transmogrified into “We eatin’ / Ah, made you soup / You a slave to a bleep in the beat loop”. While not a flawless album – it’s a little long at 20 tracks and tracks 5-8, 14 and 15 aren’t up to the same quality as the others in my view – each of the many good tracks (try Puerto Rican Cousins, title track Sit Down, Man and the Diplo-produced You Can Sell Anything) is a shining example of the wordplay and whimsy that’s always delighted me about rap.

Nedry (Condors): If Portishead had released this album instead of Third (my favourite album of 2008), I would have been quite satisfied. That Portishead ended up far exceeding my limited musical imagination is of course to their credit, but shouldn’t detract from this very solid album. On paper a 2010 release which ticks all the usual boxes of The Genre Derisively Known As Trip-Hop sounds dated, but enough about this album feels fresh to me to escape that conclusion. Apples And Pears’ fingerpicked intro and pensive ethereal vocal dissolve into dirty throbbing bass with a faraway choir backing up every lament. Squid Cat Battle is like a cross between Blonde Redhead and La Roux (as remixed by Skream). Scattered abruptly interrupts its own classic dub intro with slabs of psychedelic guitar underlaid with fractured IDM beats. In Condors (live version because I can’t find the album version), elements as disparate as math rock riffs, tablas (I think), liquid bass and a repetitive chanted sigh are moulded into something cohesive and exciting – the reason, perhaps, the band saw fit to name this track after itself. This is a confident, focused debut from a band I’m definitely going to watch.

Everything In Between (No Age): In years that Sonic Youth don’t release albums I have to turn elsewhere for my noisy motorik comfort blanket, and this album fit the bill for 2010. Much of the album will make any 90s American indie fetishist happy, with some songs successfully mining that good old scrappy off-tune-yet-tuneful Husker Du / Pixies aesthetic (Depletion, Skinned, Valley Hump Crash) and others more rooted in guitar noise and the drone (Glitter, Shred And Transcend, the particularly glorious feedback screeching of Fever Dreaming). The album also makes occasional diversions to a rather more abstract sensibility, with the muddy, expectant drums of Sorts (the link describes it as Skinned, but it’s actually Sorts) sounding like they could have come off Liars’ Drum’s Not Dead album, and Katerpillar, Dusted and Positive Amputation quite reminiscent of early M83. These could have been better integrated into the flow of the album – the sequencing from Katerpillar to the end of the album lacks coherence – but they’re still decent songs if appreciated purely on their own terms.

Go (Jonsi): This is quite a departure from the stately austerity of the Sigur Ros sound I’m most used to (having not kept track of the band since Takk) but I never heard a Nico Muhly arrangement I didn’t like, and his work here is intricate, brimming over with vitality and beautifully produced. Percussionist Samuli Kosminen is also integral to the success of many of the "happy" songs like Animal Arithmetic and Around Us, his clattered rhythms egging each song on like an excited child whose enthusiasm is infectious. And then, of course, there is Jonsi’s voice, that voice that made you feel like you understood everything he was singing about even back when he was singing in a made-up language called Hopelandic. You don’t have to know track 3 is called Tornado to understand that beneath the song’s calm churns turmoil, destruction from the inside, or to know track 8 is called Grow Till Tall to let its gradual, inexorable swell elevate you. Closing track Hengilas eases you down from those rarefied heights, ending the romp that Go Do began on a surprisingly sedate note – not sombre or pensive, though, but more like the return to a peaceful home after a day out drinking in the world’s delights.

Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty (Big Boi): A big treat for hip-hop fans in 2010 was that two of the most anticipated releases of the year actually lived up to their hype, and what was even better was that they were so different. I’ll rave about Kanye’s right after this, but Big Boi deserves our undivided attention first. He went through quite a struggle with record companies and the like to get this album released, but hasn’t bogged the finished product down with the sort of resentful revenge-raps I could imagine other artists indulging in under such circumstances, choosing instead (in Turns Me On) to say “Who gives a damn about the past / I live for the day, plan for the future / Pack a lunch and haul ass.”

And haul ass he does, delivering a buoyant, relentlessly catchy celebration of the Dirty South sensibility he’s been pivotal in popularizing. In the same way Outkast’s B.O.B. sounds as vital today as it did when it was released in 2000, parts of this album seem put together by a time traveller with the benefit of perspective in every direction and an overarching commitment to the groove. When Big Boi proclaims near the start of the album (Daddy Fat Sax) "I write knockout songs / You spit punchlines for money", take that as a promise – skits aside, the first 9 tracks of the album sound like an instant hit parade. Although the inexplicable choice of some whine-rock dudes called Vonnegutt to overegg the chorus and bridge of Follow Us is one of the album’s rare missteps, the song’s clipped, minimalist beat and Big Boi’s magisterial precision in the verses still make it quite the earworm. The three song sequence from this Cadillacs-in-the-hood head-nodder to the space-funk slickness of Shutterbugg‘s glittering synths and gurgling voiceboxed bassline to General Patton’s symphonic choral bombast is a wonderful display of the creativity and fun that pervades this album. I’m not hugely fond of some songs that other reviewers seemed to love, such as Be Still and Shine Blockas, but the overall consistency of the album remains impressive. In other years it could have been my top album of the year – but now it’s time to talk about Kanye.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Kanye West): If a groovy Martian had come to Earth in December 2010 seeking to learn of this thing Earthlings refer to as "hip-hop", it may have been rather nonplussed to encounter this album as one of the most critically acclaimed releases of the year. If we assume for the sake of argument that our fictional Mork did its preliminary studies of the topic in 2004 (the year The College Dropout was released) and then spent the ensuing years travelling to our galaxy, I’m as sure as I could be about the views of an imaginary extraterrestrial that it would struggle to understand why any Earthling applying the genre touchstones outlined in its Hip-Hop 101 primer would rate this album higher than Kanye’s debut. This slightly weird tangent is, believe it or not, the best explanation I have for my initial negative response to this album, pursuant to which I pontificated drunkenly on Facebook that all this album’s ecstatic reviewers must have been smoking something.

But I get it now. To evaluate this album (as I initially did, Martian-like) in isolation from Kanye’s career history and public persona is missing the point. It isn’t meant to showcase him as a MC the way The College Dropout did (and needed to, at the time), but rather as creative director and I’m The CEO, Bitch, of the waking dreamworld that is Life According To Kanye. But while the Kanye persona we all love to hate is on full display here, its twists and contradictions mean that the album is better appreciated when listened to in its entirety, letting Kanye take you on the journey he’s sequenced – from the braggadocio of "this pimp is on top of Mount Olympus" Gorgeous Kanye, to paranoid, lonely Blame Game Kanye, to the Kanye who chooses to close this hugely ambitious cast-of-thousands production with a smattering of hollow, perfunctory applause. Much like its creator, the album is many things good and bad, but never  boring.

As individual songs go, despite not finding many of them immediately appealing, almost every one has grown on me over time. A detailed rundown of my favourite moments in this album would make this writeup ten times longer than it already is, but here’s a whistlestop tour: the inimitable Kanyeworld crassness of rhyming "Phoebe Philo" with "so much head I woke up in Sleepy Hollow" in Dark Fantasy, the emphatic horns and tumultuous kick-in of the drums in All Of The Lights, Nicki Minaj’s verse in Monster exsanguinating everyone else who shares the track with her (including Jay-Z), So Appalled’s lyrical circumspection and fantastic guest performances (Jay-Z especially), the stark "and I just blame everything on you / at least you know that’s what I’m good at" line in Runaway read with the story about Pusha T struggling to achieve the level of douchebaggery that Kanye wanted in the song…like I said, the list could go on, but I’ll end it with what I enjoyed most about this album: being reminded of how great it can be sometimes when you realize you’ve gotten something completely wrong. The last time mainstream pop music got an album with so audacious and fully-realized a vision, that album was called Thriller.

2010 Song List

As has been my practice before, this only lists songs which aren’t already mentioned in my forthcoming (yes, really!) 2010 album list. They’re not necessarily songs that were released as singles either, they really are just songs from 2010 that I especially enjoyed.

First, some Honourable Mentions (where I like the song, but am sharing it more for fun value than because I see myself listening to it years from now):

  • Deadly Medley (Black Milk featuring Royce Da 5’9” and Elzhi): The beats are blah, but the line “My shit is Martin Luther / Your shit is Martin Lawrence” literally made me laugh out loud in a crowded bus.

  • Map Of Tasmania (Amanda Palmer & the Young Punx) (Video possibly NSFW, but unforgettable): Probably the best song about pubic hair in the world.

  • If Love Whispers Your Name (Richard Thompson): Richard Thompson’s voice is a bit of an acquired taste, but I listen to him for his guitar work, and it’s killer here.

And now the song list proper:

  • Catholic Pagans (Surfer Blood): Most reviewers of Surfer Blood’s well-received debut album saw Swim as the standout track, but I prefer the uncomplicated naiveté of Catholic Pagans, which closes the album. I have this thing where I’m quite mean about indie pop, like being mean about it is part of my identity or something, and then this little gem comes and disarms me. It’s okay to change for love, it explains: “When I met you / I broke the mould / I fell apart and combed my hair”. Two minutes fifteen seconds in, it breaks out into cascading layers of joy. I fall apart. I comb my hair.

  • Tune In (The Bug featuring Roots Manuva): If you are in a jurisdiction that has legalized cannabis, roll the biggest spliff you’ve ever smoked before you listen to this track. If you are reading this in Singapore, consider the price you are prepared to pay for the UlTiMaTe BAEHSSSS XpErIeNcE. Ten years’ prison and/or S$20,000 fine? Could still be worthwhile.

  • Time Xone / We Want War (These New Puritans): I’m cheating a bit here – these are two songs, tracks 1 and 2 of These New Puritans’ Hidden album. They’re very different from each other, with Time Xone’s refined brasses and woodwinds giving you little warning of the onslaught of battle trumpets, doom drums and creepy choirs that are forthcoming in We Want War. But somehow, taken together, they catapult the listener very effectively into the album’s rather distinctive aesthetic, and I like when that happens. I didn’t ultimately feel the album sustained its initial promise, but for these two songs I was utterly riveted.

  • Rude Boy (Rihanna): I’ve had a few of Rihanna’s hairstyles but haven’t liked much of her music since Pon De Replay. To be honest, I can’t explain what makes this particular autotunefest catchier to me than all her others, except to say that in the course of exploring my occasional penchant for dance class videos of fabulous boys rocking choreography, Rude Boy has given me great pleasure.

  • Carry Out (Timbaland featuring Justin Timberlake): Lines like “I’ll have you open all night like the IHOP” suggest that this song is to lyrical subtlety as Sarah Palin is to geopolitical knowledge, and in case you didn’t get the message from the song alone that Timbaland and Justin love ladies as much as I love a McSpicy meal, the video features a lot of ladybooty-pumping taking place in front of a neon “Hot Cakes” sign. (True story: when watching the video in the course of writing this post, my computer overheated.) So yes, I’m totally a bad person for loving this song, but I blame those insidious bells in the beat.

  • Katy’s On A Mission (Katy B, produced by Benga): Yeah, so some people will call this the sellout that assraped dubstep. Who cares? You and I both know that the UK “urban” artist far more likely to make it big in the mainstream than Katy B or Benga is Taio Cruz, and would you rather have this song overplayed or Dynamite? (People who give the wrong answer will be assraped. With dynamite.)

  • Dancing On My Own (Robyn): Combines such lyrical heartbreak with such soaring, indomitable music that I almost wish I had experienced a breakup in my own life so that I could dance to this in a club near the end of the night and have one of those transcendental clubbing moments that sound really lame and clichéd until you’ve experienced them yourself.

  • Hold My Hand (Michael Jackson and Akon): It is rather bittersweet to listen to a posthumous release that begins with the line "This life don’t last forever" and (given the circumstances of his life and death) later contains the lines "The nights are getting darker / And there’s no peace in sight", but it’s hard to describe how much enjoyment I can get from just his "yeah" that follows the "Akon and MJ" introduction, or the little crescendo in "alone" in "Being miserable alone" at the end of the first verse, or the way he emphasizes the s in "just" at the end of "Nothing can come between us if you just". The song has grown on me too – it’s pretty catchy, their voices sound good together, the bridge works well, and the video is, dare I say, heartwarming. It may not go down in history as one of his great songs, but for someone like me clinging to every opportunity to hear "new" things sung in that voice I love, even as I am dubious about the moral provenance of milking every cent out of songs Michael certainly did not see as finished or satisfactory works, this song (more or less finished, according to Akon) is probably one of the best compromises I’ll ever get between those competing impulses.

Hit You With No Delayin’

Mindboggle of the day, via The High Definite: Busta Rhymes’ Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See was nominated for Best Rap Solo Performance at the 40th Grammies in ’98, but lost to Will Smith. For Men In Black.


I will spare you my no-shit-Sherlock rant about tenuous connections between Grammies and actual artistic achievement, and just go straight into slapdash tangential raving about this song. That juddering, hypnotic sample! Busta rhyming “silly” with “nine milly” within the line, Busta rhyming “in God we trust” with “we murderous” across lines, Busta just inventing rhymes whenever and wherever he damn well wants![1. “You don’t wanna violate nigga really and truly-o / My main thug nigga named Julio he moodio / Type of nigga that’ll slap you with the toolio”] And of course, that incredible “I’ll-have-whatever-hallucinogen-he’s-having” Coming To America / Remember The Time mashup of a video!

Unsatisfied with being awesome all on its own, this song has also gone on to beget more awesome, like one of the best So You Think You Can Dance group routines of all time[2. Google “Busta Mod” and “Wade Robson” if that link stops working.], one of the most impressive hip-hop karaoke performances I’ve ever seen, and my stumbling onto the rather excellent Hip Hop Isn’t Dead blog simply because I googled Busta Rhymes in the course of writing this post. Don’t say I never give y’all my goodies. Peace out.

Odd Musical Pairings (Podcast and Picks)

A while back I highlighted some podcasts I’d quite enjoyed, and I’d like to continue that because it helps me keep track of them too. So here’s NPR All Songs Considered’s Odd Musical Pairings podcast, which I liked because I’ve always had an interest in musical collaborations, and why some work while others don’t.

Most of what they featured was already known to me, but The Face Of Love (Eddie Vedder and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan!) was a much-welcome discovery. They followed this up with Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash doing Girl From The North Country, making for a one-two punch of awesomeness which made me hate myself for not having listened to Nashville Skyline in about nine years.

As for the collaborations that didn’t work, it’s a pity the podcast page already tells you the full playlist, because knowing what’s coming somewhat spoils the unfolding tragedy of Bono’s verses in his I’ve Got You Under My Skin duet with Sinatra. Still, if you’re the sort that enjoys watching horror movies with unlikable characters in them just so that you can savour watching them die, check that massacre out.

I tried to come up with picks of my own to make this post less parasitic, but found it harder than expected. I have one clunker which everyone else seems to love, and some favourites which aren’t really that “odd” once you go a little past the initial incongruity of the pairing. But what the hell, I’ll list them anyway.

Let’s get the clunker out of the way first. I know the Alison Krauss and Robert Plant album got shitloads of acclaim but I found it very lacklustre. There are a few pretty songs (I like Your Long Journey), and kudos to Robert Plant for not being all Led Zeppy, but when you pair a leading light of bluegrass with an icon of blues-rock, you do expect to hear a bit of both in the end result. Instead, Alison Krauss sounds beautiful as usual but the songs she’s singing lack the verve and personality of her work with Union Station, and Robert Plant just sounds like a good backup singer. I could play the particular examples I’m thinking of, I suppose, but life is too short to listen to boring music. So here’s one of the better results of the collaboration: Gone Gone Gone.

And now for some favourites:

Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield: What Have I Done To Deserve This – Dusting off (sorry!) retro divas for modern collaborations has been done before (cf. Take That featuring Lulu on Relight My Fire, KLF featuring Tammy Wynette on Justified And Ancient) but I like this one best, for the inimitable elegance of the song and how Dusty blends in so perfectly without any of the vocal scenery-chewing that tends to result in these situations.

Loretta Lynn and Jack White: Portland, Oregon – Only odd if you don’t already know about Jack White’s passion for American roots music. He’d been persona non grata in my iPod for a while because of how violently I dislike Seven Nation Army, but his contributions to the Cold Mountain soundtrack and the amazing production he did for Loretta Lynn’s majestic Van Lear Rose album soon got him back in there again. This ode to the joys of a sloe gin fizz-fuelled hookup is an inspired match – both are in fine voice, his ebullient guitar work underlines the chutzpah of her singing, and I adore the chemistry they have in the video.

Mariah Carey with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony: Breakdown – Such collaborations are routine in the late 2000s pop landscape, but were nowhere as common when this came out in 1998. I recall Mariah being one of the first big stars to start the trend, and this is one of the best of those pioneering efforts. Bone Thugs’ distinctive sound makes this more memorable to me than many of the other pop/R&B tracks that have been done since, and I especially like how Mariah’s own phrasing seems to echo theirs.

Hercules and Love Affair with Antony Hegarty: Blind – This wasn’t a pairing I expected to like, since I’m not a great appreciator of disco revivalism or Antony Hegarty’s singing style. But once taken out of the dreary atmosphere of I Am A Bird Now (sorry, it’s the only Antony and the Johnsons album I’ve listened to and I was bored stiff) and recontextualised in the upbeat, infectious melody lines of Blind, Antony sounds robust and vital rather than precious. I still remember the first time I heard this – one of the other girl DJs played it at Hacienda the same night I popped my DJ cherry, and I immediately realized that every single song I’d lovingly picked out and sequenced for my set had just been effortlessly eclipsed.

2009 Music Rundown

I listened to more new music in 2009 than I had the previous year, but it’s still difficult to list much that I enjoyed enough to recommend to others. (Posterity note: The album I listened to more than any other in 2009 – The Bug’s London Zoo – would’ve been up there with Third and Rook as one of my favourites of 2008 if I’d actually managed to listen to it within that year.)

But onwards to 2009. Or backwards, rather, given the tardiness of this post. 


Warm Heart Of Africa (The Very Best): When raving about this album to Benny a few weeks ago the best explanation I could manage was to stammer “It’s like…African pop for people who like dubstep!” But I did this glorious album a disservice, because my description, apart from being clumsy (Pitchfork’s review broke it down somewhat better) is useless to anyone except music nerds. In truth, this is just one of the most effortlessly engaging albums I have heard in years (try Julia) and I honestly believe it’s an album for everyone, except people who don’t like joy. My favourite release of the year, IN A YEAR WITH A SONIC YOUTH RELEASE. If that’s not a recommendation from me, nothing is.

The Eternal (Sonic Youth): I know, I’m just so full of surprises. OK, this isn’t quite as good as any of their other post-NYC Ghosts And Flowers albums  or Thurston’s lovely Trees Outside The Academy from 2007, but it still presses enough buttons for me.  Continues in the somewhat accessible vein of Rather Ripped, sometimes too much so (What We Know, Poison Arrow) but there are still plenty of examples of the band being melodic without losing themselves (Leaky Lifeboat, Antenna).

Moderat (Moderat): I already enjoy each of the acts in this collaboration on their own, but I really hope they keep working together too. Apparat’s moody headphones universes get roughed up by Modeselektor’s dancefloor sensibilities (Slow Match), Modeselektor’s sonic freewheeling benefits from Apparat’s talent for creating and building atmosphere (Rusty Nails, Porc #1, Porc #2),  and I get a new favourite pre-clubbing album. (Well, it would be my favourite pre-clubbing album if I could actually be bothered to get off my ass and go clubbing.)

Farm (Dinosaur Jr): Part of why I love this is definitely the nostalgic hold 80s/90s US indie rock will always have on me. But even when I try to shed that and pretend I’m assessing this album through fresh ears, I’m still struck by its effortless, unaffected ability to just bring on some good tunes and rock out. And like I said earlier, J Mascis’s guitar playing just makes me so damn happy.

Dragonslayer (Sunset Rubdown): Every now and then an album comes along and reminds me that I can still like indie pop. Spencer Krug’s hiccupy David Bowie voice appeals to me much more than the usual reedy-voiced SNAG or alterna-ingenue vocal stylings that abound in this genre, and there’s something wonderfully full-bodied and spacey about the production that brings out the stateliness and drama of the songs really well. When I’ve had a bad day at work I just want to crawl into tracks like Silver Moons and Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh! (yes, I know, execrable name but give it a chance) and let the bubbly reverby guitars bathe me like a jacuzzi.

Us (Brother Ali): As much as I can often be easily contented with crass booty jamz, and equally easily bored with “worthy” hip hop, Ali’s lyrical achievements here are just too impressive to be missed. He’s not the most complex rhymer around but the sincerity and depth with which he’s able to take on subjects like the legacy of slavery (The Travelers), child sex abuse (Babygirl) and the experiences of new immigrants, children of divorce and closeted gay teens (Tight Rope) is incredible.


Surgical Gloves (Raekwon): So much rhapsodizing has been done about Only Made 4 Cuban Linx Pt II that I feel the need to explain why it isn’t in my albums list. Honestly, I’ve been too distracted by reading on my commute to listen properly to the lyrics, so while I have enjoyed the production, I just haven’t engaged with the album as fully as I did with the albums which did make the list. This track, however, stood out to me from the first time I heard it.  Alchemist slices up a Styx sample to make it sound like a malfunctioning CD player, Raekwon spits lines like “We blow you out your peacoats”, and the end result is just slick.

Heartless (Kris Allen, live version from Top 3 night on American Idol): It’s really hard to find this on Youtube because most of the clips there are either the studio version, or the audio-only live version. This canny, game-changing performance formed the basis of my shock epiphany that although it was undoubtedly cooler to support Adam Lambert, the person I really really wanted to win was Kris.

Velvet (The Big Pink): This and the album it came from are great comfort listening for me, for times when I don’t feel like “working” to enjoy my music. There’s nothing gobsmackingly creative about this track, no new layers to discover each time you listen to it, but sometimes you just want a straightforward instantly accessible slab of moody bombastic feedback-drenched drama which gives you what you want and gives it to you now.

Halo (Beyonce): You laugh? Wait till you hear how many other Ryan Tedder penned pop songs I also love madly (Apologize, Bleeding Love, Battlefield), then laugh. I’ve never been that keen on Beyonce – I don’t like watching her perform because there’s something I find a bit frantic about her dancing – but the vocal twists and turns she does here are really well executed. I fully intend to butcher this song in my next karaoke session, especially the “haloOOo” bits.

Fostercare (Burial): This pipped King Midas Sound’s Meltdown very narrowly for status of my favourite track on the “new stuff” disc of 5 Years Of Hyperdub. If you already know Burial, this is more of what he does best. If you don’t, I’ll spare you my yammering about textures and sample manipulation and just urge you to experience this haunting, otherworldly trip for yourself.

Global Enemies (Lynx & Kemo): OK I’m totally cheating because I know this came out in 2007, but ever since their barnstorming gig at Home in 2008 I’ve inexplicably failed to rave about them on this blog, and that can’t go on. This track was included on their 2009 debut album (which, unfortunately, I haven’t heard yet), so Imma sneak it in that way.  Kemo’s lyrics aren’t as intriguingly esoteric here as in Carnivale but his deadpan style suits the bleak prophecy of this track perfectly.  

Keep The Streets Empty For Me (Fever Ray): Sometimes here on the equator rain comes suddenly and heavily in the pre-dawn hours, moving across the ground in sheets with the wind. For night owls like me these are magical times, when the world is cool and peaceful and mostly  mine. This is a song for the minutes just after that rain dies away, when the cascade of droplets from rain gutters and awnings slows but doesn’t stop, each tiny impact rippling the puddle where it lands, each rippling puddle part of a shimmering tableau that hardly anyone will see but me.

Last note:

No personal 2009 music summary of mine could possibly omit what happened on June 25th, 2009. I already wrote a fair bit in this blog about the joy Michael Jackson brought to my life, but reading over it again I’m struck by how much I still had to leave out.

I’m not over his death. I know how this makes me look to people who are too sensible to be this affected by the death of someone who never knew they existed. And I also know how blessed I am that so far, I have not had to suffer the loss of someone truly close to me. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. But for now, there are times I still find myself ambushed by emotion that I thought I had exhausted the night of his memorial service, the night I cried all the tears I had not shed in that dry-eyed, numb week after his death. I still think of him randomly, like when one of my first thoughts after seeing Avatar was how much he would have loved it in all its technologically groundbreaking, spectacularly beautiful, treehugging, militaristic, schmaltzy splendour.

But this is a music post, and I did actually intend to end it with something related to Michael Jackson’s music rather than my emoness. One “silver lining” (if you could call it that) of his death was the rehearsal footage his fans got to see in the This Is It movie. I loved this because he usually wouldn’t let the world see anything until it had been meticulously engineered to run to uberperfection every time. I think this clip of The Way You Make Me Feel rehearsals gives a refreshingly raw glimpse of the person and artist I will never forget.


I was doing some clutter-clearing today and found this passage I saved from when I read Carson McCullers’ The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter some years back. The protagonist is listening to Beethoven’s 3rd symphony (the “Eroica”) at the time, but you don’t have to have heard it[1. If you’d like to get to know the Eroica, good ol’ Youtube will let you travel back in time to watch the great Herbert von Karajan at work: Part 1, Part 2.] to let this passage take you back to the last time you listened to music that made you feel this way.

She could not listen good enough to hear it all. The music boiled inside her. Which? To hang on to certain wonderful parts and think them over so that later she would not forget – or should she let go and listen to each part that came without thinking or trying to remember? Golly! The whole world was this music and she could not listen hard enough. Then at last the opening music came again, with all the different instruments bunched together for each note like a hard, tight fist that socked at her heart. And the first part was over.

This music did not take a long time or a short time. It did not have anything to do with time going by at all. She sat with her arms held tight around her legs, biting her salty knee very hard. It might have been five minutes she listened or half the night. The second part was black-coloured – a slow march. Not sad, but like the whole world was dead and black and there was no use thinking back how it was before. One of those horn kind of instruments played a sad and silver tune. Then the music rose up angry and with excitement underneath. And finally the black march again.

But maybe the last part of the symphony was the music she loved the best – glad and like the greatest people in the world running and springing up in a hard, free way. Wonderful music like this was the worst hurt there could be. The whole world was this symphony, and there was not enough of her to listen.

The last time music made me feel like the whole world was a symphony and there wasn’t enough of me to listen was a few weeks ago, listening to Dinosaur Jr’s Farm and losing myself so happily in the guitar work[2. There’s No Here isn’t actually a standout track in this (consistently good) album but it’s a punchy example of one of my favourite things about Dinosaur Jr – how J Mascis’s guitar is basically like the fourth member of the band. If you’re feeling a little more emo, let Said The People build to the solo at 3.05.] that I almost forgot I was on my way to work on a Monday morning. When was yours?

Wakeup Music

Last week was rough at work and I was in a rotten mood on the bus today at the thought of being back at Monday again. Then I listened to Princes (Gang Gang Dance ft. Tinchy Stryder) a first, second and third time in quick succession and everything changed. I realize the track’s hardly new to people who keep up with this shit but it’s new to me, and since it’s possible you readers have grown old and uncool too, I thought it was worth mentioning. Tinchy Stryder’s MCing is OK but the magic of this one is all in the background of the production – that diffident, hollowed out beat that enters around 0.48 while the ebullient, somewhat haphazard, piano line romps overhead, the 15 seconds starting around 2.04 which telescopes all of me into a single, reverberating molecule of joy, the febrile, insistent alarm sounds heralding the bridge around 3.05, the distorted riffing when the verse kicks back in around 3.30, and how the whole song is generally a rampaging, schizophrenic universe of stuff that doesn’t go until it does.