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Saturday, December 20, 2003

Part Four: !!! - Me And Giuliani Down By The School Yard. Or whatever it's called. Because I only have room in my heart for one dreadful pun a year and Rachel Stevens' airport funny wins this year because she is better in every way than !!!. I don't know what !!! look like but I bet Ms Stevens is easier on the eye too. Plus I heard her first and you couldn't pay me to shake my bits to this.
# 1:59 PM []
Part Three: JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE - Cry Me A River. I think it's crap, frankly. Okay, to be accurate, I think he's crap. It's an OK song with terrific production warbled highly by a highly-annoying twat. I can't help it, I just can't see Justin as interesting or sympathetic, two things that are essential for pulling this sort of thing off. I'm so over straight-faced, gleeless falsettos.
# 1:57 PM []

Friday, December 19, 2003

Part Two: THE RAPTURE - House of Jealous Lovers
I think Isabel Ewing said it best in her ballot to the Freaky Trigger Pop Music Focus Group:

Hit the! Saucepan!
Hit the! Saucepan!
Hit the! Saucepan!
Squeal like! A Pig!

It's funny because it's true. In just thirteen words, she has, for me, rendered everything written about this song obsolete. This song is one idea stretched far too thinly and I really don't like the idea much. I think it's mediocre, but probably I've gotten very annoyed with it because I get the idea it's important and one should have a strong opinion on it - even though really I don't, and as such it has slinked down the scale more than it deserves.

Sister Saviour is alright though.
# 10:08 PM []
Inspired by the saminess of Pitchfork and Stylus's lists (it's a committee thing, not really the fault of the writers, just the idea of a consensus list doesn't do it for me. I like reading individual lists, if you've counted your singles down, send me a link!), I've decided to avoid saying what's #1 on my list by mentioning ten songs that seem to be high on everyone's lists bar mine, and why they're not. Some songs haven't made it in because I tried to avoid having more than one song per artist in the chart (Train, Jump (For My Love), I Believe In A Thing Called Love , Four Minute Warning and Ghetto Musick for instance), and others were skipped because I'm counting them as 2004 due to strange delays and record company fucking-around even though I've loved them this year and just general confusingness (Milkshake).

Part One: BEYONCE - Crazy In Love. I like pop, so obviously I love this, right? Wrong. Because it could have been the best song in the universe, but something, somewhere went horribly wrong. For the benefit of any pop stars, here is how NOT to fuck up your world-beating track: Acknowledge the hook and get the fuck out of its way. That horn sample, right? It's genius. Whoever produced this is smart. What was not smart is having Jay-Z talk over it. The HORN SAMPLE is the hook. JAY-Z? Not the hook. Talking over it DULLS ITS IMPACT, and therefore renders the song less good.
# 6:04 PM []
I don't think I've heard a lovelier song about love in years. It doesn't sound of this world - it sounds like it was captured out of clouds hundreds of kilometres in the air and bottled before being expertly translated into 0s and 1s. The triumphant cry of "It's a new day!" before the music cuts out just sounds so perfect, it really is incredible that this duo have been going for about 20 years and can still come up with something so effortlessly breathtaking.

Neil Tennant's lyrics are always spot-on, and here is no exception - presence of his lover may not precisely make miracles happen or stop bad things from happening, but he drowns them out. Saying something like war being over or world hunger being cured would have been too much, and Miracles sets the bar for amazing changes a litle lower - stray dogs not biting, birds singing, the scent of the jasmine - little differences noticed by the narrator's new-found or newly-noticed optimism as a result of his love.

And that's without mentioning the epic scale of the drama of it all - it sounds a teeny bit like it's going to be Madonna's Frozen or some other ballad, but PSB have always know the value of building up to an epic climax - Can You Forgive Her? and So Hard did that to perfection - and the aforementioned "It's a new day" is both climax and resolution in two glorious seconds, and it is not really a ballad, it's too pulsating, swirling and damned exciting for it to be. Easily their best since Can You Forgive Her?, which is pretty high praise.
# 12:40 PM []
LMC - Take Me To The Clouds
It seems a long time since I heard a U2 sample in a dance song - though I have vivid memories of one sampling New Year's Day from about 1995/6 whose name seems to have escaped me. (UPDATE: Thanks to Max Jones who reminded me it was Only Me by Hyperlogic. Ta, Max!) Anyway, this swipes elements from With Or Without You and gives the whole thing, as the title would suggest, a vaguely ethereal feel. It does not sound anything like Fatboy Slim's Sunset (the comparison point for any rubbish song about being up in the air, I think you'll agree), and as such is not rubbish at all. It'd be a gross lie to say that it was a particularly original or innovative use of the sample, but there's something quite likeable about it. Partially, it's the restraint; there's no attempt at earnest emotional theatrics - it's an instrumental, so no need to worry about a dance Bono messing with the atmosphere here, and it's only 3 minutes long, so it doesn't drag on endlessly. Listening to dance singles would be much easier if you could just find decent radio edits of the things, really.

It's coming out as a single next year - the version I have put up for download is probably not going to be the same as what gets put out to pop radio - and it's very enjoyable stuff - given current trends one assumes the commercial release will have annoying vocals added (cf The Terrace), so this is really worth a listen. It's on the sidebar right now, as is...
# 12:36 PM []
.... yet another track from the forthcoming Scissor Sisters album. Yes, the album, not the 5-track promo. Lovers In The Backseat strikes a fairly accessible middle point between the upbeat, good-time 70s pop hybrid of the newer tracks and those from the widely-circulated and rather brilliant demos. Download from the sidebar and enjoy.
# 12:25 PM []
The best Eurovision winner since Bucks Fizz. No. Since Abba. No, ever. Waterloo never dripped with desire like this, and if there'd been a funny almost-rap bit in Making Your Mind Up, BF would have been flayed alive for reasons other than that hand dance they did. I've never been entirely convinced that all the Eurovision songs aren't written by the same computer, made by the same producer, played and sung on by the same robots and that the only difference is that each master is sprayed with some kind of magic fluid that immediately attaches to it stereotypical sounds specific to that country. And then it gets choreographed by some bonkers people and watched on TV by millions of other bonkers people.

The bassline throbs - politely though, there might be children watching - and nestles underneath the almost spoken verses and their accompanying swirling strings which gain in intensity before sweeping into the dramatic chorus. A bit of piano comes in at the end of Sertab's rap (and I use the term advisedly), where she says she wants to "ah-ah-ah" and it's not even remotely erotic or convincing, nor, seemingly, was it meant to be. We get to hear a bit of guitar unencumbered by the insistent sashaying beat and attacking, dramatic strings before Sertab reaches to the heavens for one last melodramatic strike: "I'll cry! I'll die! Make you mine again!" and the whole brilliant thing implodes in on itself - all in under three minutes.
# 12:06 AM []

Thursday, December 18, 2003

AVENUE D - Sex That I Need
It probably was the right time to talk about a (probably) novelty single on here. As far as can be seen, Avenue D consists of a man and two women, each of whom extol the virtues of The Sex with their respective boyfriends, so at this stage, it's already going to be compared with Junior Senior's Chicks and Dicks, a competition it has absolutely no chance of winning. Both because the JS senior is brilliant, and because this sounds a bit unfinished.

I suppose this is an attempt to write what Nick would call a supa-dupa dance-rap singalong, except the music doesn't definitively move into the era where it could actually be danceable. There are some excellent lines: "He wants to squeeze/my 34Bs/until I can't breathe" is a good one - but the rest of it's just vulgar without being amusing, the delivery is competent but uninteresting, and the whole thing doesn't have the legs to survive once the sex-talk gimmick has worn off, and that takes approximately two and a half listens. Even a good set-up involving the area codes of a lover doesn't really pay off.

It could have been really great, and that's why it's something of a shame. Without getting all high and mighty - these things need a catchy, attention-grabbing chorus, and while being repetitive is often necessary, it's not sufficient, and there needs to be an overall sense of glee in the whole proceedings rather than merely revelling in being naughty and childish. It's hard to imagine feeling happier after hearing this, so it's not exactly a wild success as a novelty single either, perhaps even less so than an, er, straight, pop song.
# 10:09 AM []
For the most part, the average person just doesn't go through the enormous emotional highs and lows most pop's about. I've never pined openly for another, mused aloud about how shitty my life is, and never thought blatantly saying "I WANT YOU BACK! I NEED YOU BACK!" or words to that effect would be the best way of going about it anyway. And a lot of heartbreak pop stoops to just those levels, and mires it in melisma - because that's the easiest way of indicating depth, isn't it?

Shit no, and Mark Owen knows it. He sings about loss the way we, or at least I, think about it. Mark, in his pre-fame days, would have wandered around aimlessly looking for some girl, trying to make accidents happen so that she'd discover him. He'd have tried to plan events to meet her, and play out the resultant scene in his head. And that's what this song's about. He wears the shirt she loves, watches her favourite film, listens to her favourite album in the hope things will make a difference. It won't, and he knows it, but when we chase the impossible, even a slight improvement in odds makes an infinite difference in comparison, and that's enough. And Mark's voice has never sounded better, soaring in the chorus despite the heartbreak being clearly audible around the edges and in the lyrics, juxtaposed with the optimistic subject of the verses wedded to downbeat musings. It's really tragic, one of the saddest songs of the year.

Robbie Williams hasn't done anything one-tenth as good as this, not for want of trying, and this is probably only the fourth best song on Mark's album. A lot of the time, great albums don't get recognised as such until years later. Sadly, partially because he used to be in Take That perhaps, but mostly because this single stiffed on the charts leading to him being dumped by his label, I don't think the great stuff Mark did this year will ever get its due, and that's not a fair thing to put on the shoulders of this fine song.
# 10:09 AM []

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Karen Poole is a dead-set genius. Everything she seems to touch turns to gold, except for this Lene Nystrom aka She Out Of Aqua single which seems to have been given the arse by the public and the record companies. Only released in mainland Europe, Canada and Japan as far as I know, it flopped terribly. I feel like I've stepped into a parallel universe where magnificent pop is ignored by everyone. Actually, I always feel like that, but with the failure of this song to go to #1 in every country in the world, I think I have some solid evidence of this parallel pop-hating reality.

Sure, Aqua sound a bit dated now, but this sounds just as good as any flash Xenomania production, and if Lene's brought one thing from her former band, it's the knowledge that a cheeky and playful lyric sticks in the brain, and she does playful and cheeky very, very well. No expense has been spared, nor any concessions to subtlety made as Lene bumps and grinds her way through a deliciously naughty romp through the workplace, turning the office into her private disco - and her bedroom, tying the listener up in decadent Europop hooks, all the while telling you to handcuff your boss.

And it's still not even close to being the best single of the year to feature a Lene Nystrom writing credit, of course. Obviously you know what that means.
# 11:57 PM []
AIR - Cherry Blossom Girl
All the disparate elements of this song are very pretty - but there's something oddly sinister about it. It's very likeable - easily my favourite Air song to date, but then again I do think they are one of the most overrated groups of the last 5 years or so. No, really, I actually like this an awful lot - warm synths, guitar, a flutter of stuttering flute here and there, and the vocals are ever so slightly menacing: "Tell me, why can't it be true?" is one especially creepy line, at least in its melodic delivery. It's not entirely clear to me what twisted, dissolute fairytale this is actually soundtracking - longing? stalking? - but the facade is impeccable, you could ignore the lyrics and sing along as if it's a cute atmospheric ditty about lovestruckedness or something, and if you don't, you can be struck by the fact that the female voice makes it sound even more bizarrely spooky.
# 12:30 PM []
Oh, you don't think this is a pop song? Stop reading right now and never return, because something that grabs you, sways you and stays long after is exactly what pop is. Pianos tinkle, swings float majestically before swooping for the kill and guitars chime in for emphasis rather than just volume; this is as meticulously planned and executed as any pop song or assassination attempt. "Come on people, feel it like you just don't care", Alun Woodward, by his standards anyway, belts out, the mumble of much of his previous songs banished for 30 joyous seconds as the song whips through inverted cliches with almost glammy abandon and all the while it still sounds lamenting and funny - you couldn't be sure whether the recording of this in the studio was done with a huge fuck-off grin on the band's faces or with stony faces as if they took it seriously, but you assume the former because the whole thing sounds like it was uproarious fun to make.
# 11:58 AM []

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

I've put up an Mp3 of Caparezza's Fuori Del Tunnel on the sidebar. This should be a bit more palatable to the influx of readers who may have been scared off by its Hungarian dance pop stormer predecessor.
# 11:02 AM []
EMINEM - Can I Bitch?
Yes, it sounds like he's flipped a few notes from that nagging Without Me riff and put it underneath a dis track to Canibus. As someone who likes rap and hip-hop but doesn't feel interested or connected to the scene, I must admit I've never understood the appeal of actually releasing dis tracks, but for something that's just leaked onto the net off an EP and not from his next album, this one actually makes sense. It's difficult to imagine this one being intended entirely for those disaffected 15-year olds who walk sullenly down the city streets attired in those T-shirts with Eminem doing that face, you know the one I mean, would they even understand why running over the Pet Shop Boys is significant? (If you're not aware, do download PSB's magnificent The Night I Fell In Love, if only for the "secret luvvaaahs" line toward the end. Actually, Em's reply doesn't seem vicious, it seems like a knowing wink, which is why I like it).

No, this has got to be a little nugget for the rest of us. And the funniest bit is about Jermaine Dupri, oddly. You'll notice that thus far I haven't said anything about the Canibus disses, and that's because they're just OK, they're not great, but the track works regardless because it throws in enough non-sequiturs to hold the attention, it has a catchy chorus and it seems to be composed equally of elements from early and late in his career. On the strength of this, he's got a few Without Mes left in him, which is fantastic news - Eminem having fun is much better than him being serious and important.
# 9:07 AM []
Taryn Manning sounds good when she's snarling, and not very good when she does anything else, so the idea to do a song where she basically snarls through the whole thing was nothing less than genius. She spits out catchy rhymes above towering pillars of keyboards and samplers and repeats the chorus exactly enough times to burrow into your brain without it getting boring or repetitive, even managing to make something as old as "I'm walking out the door" sound vaguely menacing. Especially good is that noise that sounds as if a cheap keyboard has been submerged in water. What actually surprises me the most is that this is quite a good thud-dy song, but if you took away all the backing except the drums, you'd notice that the drums are actually quite soft - not loud and pounding at all - clearly some kind of musical alchemy is at work here, where all the other elements, rather than drowning them out, actually enhance them.
# 8:59 AM []

Monday, December 15, 2003

1. Assuming you are one of the six people who hasn't bookmarked the consistently excellent and hugely generous Fluxblog, it is urgent and key that you go there right now to download another freshly-leaked Scissor Sisters track, Take Your Mama Out. Stop reading this and get it - it's quite brilliant and if you're slow you might end up having to wait for the album which at this stage feels so far away from being purchasable even though it's actually not.

2. I'm thinking of starting Round 2 of the Cross-Europe Chart Challenge (of Death) in about 3 weeks, but there are some countries I really want to look at that I couldn't last time. So, if you can tell me where to find singles charts from countries with a chart that has a different mix of artists to the ones covered - especially Poland or Croatia, or any of the Eastern European countries - and can tell me where the best place to find these songs is, please email me. Also email me if you can inform me how to best search for Mp3s whose titles have Greek or Russian characters in them - as I'd love to look at those two charts as well but can't work out how to find the songs themselves.
# 1:15 PM []
"It's about a little rat.", Alison Goldfrapp revealed about this chirpy little discoclash number in an interview. Which is all very nice, but I had always assumed it was about raunchy machine sex, and my interpretation is better than her intent. The singles before and after this tipped their hat to electroclash, but this one is far more I Feel Love than Emerge, despite the flailing, spastic crashing rhythm in the chorus. I love the call-and-response in the pre-chorus, where Alison's "Wonderful electric" is answered by the same six notes, and her ascending "love, love, love" at the end. And that voice - it sounded frosted over with hate on the now-classic Lovely Head and Utopia, suggesting yet another aloof diva, but here, she's virtually begging to be allowed to submit - to the beat, to the listener? I saw this played over a fashion parade while idly flicking through channels and it still sounded fantastic, so it has to be something pretty special. I envision Alison Goldfrapp has a sultry, cold Rippin' Kitten in her after hearing this, too. Plus, raunchy machine sex!
# 10:57 AM []

Sunday, December 14, 2003

If video game soundtracks had soul, they'd sound exactly like this. If machines could dance, they wouldn't have a bar of Kraftwerk, they'd dig The Human League's greatest hits and Richard X's bootlegs that pimp them out to singers like Kelis. The original HL song might be great enough, but it's just been rendered totally obsolete - unlike Being Nobody with Liberty X which just made me want to listen to Being Boiled - this has supplanted the original (I have to confess I wasn't familiar with SOS Band's The Finest), it's hard to believe that there was a different vocal on top of it originally, so good is Kelis here, effortless propelling the song along with her charisma. When she sings "You can call me.. and I'll come running" it's one of those great few seconds where it couldn't be possibly improved - the combination of her voice and that descending noise that spills into the second verse is unbelievably gorgeous.
# 7:35 PM []
Sure, I Believe In A Thing Called Love was the bigger hit, but this one works better insofar as taking me back to the glory days of the 1980s where guitar rock was just one of the ways of shooting out white-hot pop noise, unashamed to blend the shrieking guitars with precision hooks and corny sentiment and front-ended by some homely longhairs. And for fuck's sake, just because something is funny, doesn't mean that it's a) ironic, and b) only appreciated (or appreciable) ironically. I love it as a straight-ahead pop song more than I love it as rock - but I like it plenty as that too - although admittedly I haven't considered myself a fan of rock for about 5 years now. It could have been done with a synth and a drum machine and still been thrilling - and if that alternative version isn't currently playing in your head right this minute, why not?
# 6:58 AM []
Not that I don't love all (well, some of) the slightly talented pop starts clogging up the charts, but Neko Case is better than all of them. When given a song that's not great, she lifts it by sheer presence, and when given a really fantastic song like this, the result is nigh-on perfect. She only sings on half of it, and the half she doesn't sing on is wonderful to begin with, so when she puts her pipes to nonsense lyrics about pharoahs (it's supposedly an allegory about some modern political thing, or something) and thrones, it's glorious, a massive tidal wave of pop heaven, actually. Indie supergroup? Fuck that - this has ideas well above that station, as it should. It's yet another one of those fantastic songs where each bit is so enormously catchy that it could have been the chorus and repeated over and over again - and the one they settled on has frenzied nananas and jaunty keyboards underneath charging that charging rhythm - so they chose correctly.
# 6:57 AM []
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