Friday, 29 October 2010

2010: The Third Quarter - Musik

Sometimes, I think that famous British prudishness is misunderstood. It's not that we're scared to hear about sex - not the generation I know - it's just that we've heard it all before and it's not that shocking. I remember the weekend papers when Bionic came out. They all sang the same couple of tunes: yes, Christina likes sex, we get it / cor, Christina ain't half ripping off Lady Gaga.

Two months later, The Times published a 'demolishing' analysis of that Lady Gaga. The central thesis of which was: Gaga's not sexy enough. Which is ridiculous, of course. Pop doesn't have to be sexy. Gaga's the girl you never think to ask if she's ever had sex, let alone with who or what. Xtina is the girl at the party with nothing else to talk about. Songs as subtle as Sex for Breakfast, lyrics as nuanced as "when the morning comes/I know I will too". And so, naturally, the British press looked up her up and down, and shook their heads disapprovingly. Not with the horror of broken taboos, but with boredom.

And all this is true, and fair, and it whirrs around my head every time I stick the album on (which has been surprisingly often the last few months), but it doesn't matter.

Because the girl has some interesting friends, and she's brought them with her. The MIA song is the best MIA song of the year; Nicki Minaj infects Woohoo with Minaj-ness, and makes that ridiculous oversexualisation work. But most importantly, it just sounds gorgeous. Turned up loud enough, you can feel the shapes of the music. Of course, it all comes crashing down by the end, when the album strays into attempted seriousness, and the accompanying ballads.

But that first half: it might be shallow, it may lack nutrition, but it just sounds so good. Pop doesn't have to be sexy. This album isn't shocking and it isn't sexy. But, hey, this is pop music. Words don't matter, right?

I've never gotten Xiu Xiu before, but Miles 'Tails' Bradley informs me this is their Pop album. And, well... that title. That's all you need, really. That's pure Pop.

I played the title track to Liv one drunken Sunday afternoon, in endless rotation between California Gurls and Mystery Jets' Flash A Hungry Smile and it just fitted in perfectly. The overblown melodrama is giggle-worthy, to hear someone cutting all the indirect subtextual crap and just singing 'dear God I hate myself' as a chorus. But like the best Pop, it also manages to take you in, and make you feel it.

And then titles as light and friendly as Chocolate Makes You Happy encourage quiet giggles in a different way. But there's always something underneath, something savage with glinting eye. Pop.

Girl loves boy. Girl loves weed. Oh gosh how she loves both these things.

As many times as I listen to it, this album remains essentially a half-hour of just Boyfriend in my mind. Which isn't a bad thing, and is probably fitting, given that this is the musical equivalent of a stoner movie. But ... good, like.

Big Boi, Big Pimpin'
Guaranteed to add an extra 30% of swagger to whatever you're doing while it plays.

Grouped because they are each other's evil twin. Both are albums of pretty music that can be dialled down and left to settle into the background and the back of your mind.

The difference is that Serotonin makes that into a virtue. It's easy listening in the Belle & Sebastian sense, the kind where you spot your fingers creeping towards the volume dial, catch yourself singing along half-way through a song.

Whereas Suburbs is easy to forget. It's easy not to notice that it’s on. Occasionally something will snag your attention and you'll wake up, with no idea where you are in the album, or which songs have slipped by unnoticed.

The album occasionally hits on a typically great Arcade Fire lyric: “watching the end of the world on a badly compressed “ or a great song. Sprawl II is absolutely stellar, a contender for best Arcade Fire song. It's possibly telling, though, that it is the one song that doesn't sound like the others. It barely even sounds like Arcade Fire at all. With the Regine-led vocals and pulsing synths-y electro beat at its heart, it could almost be a Knife song. But to steal a line from my handsome comrade Mr Christopher Sparrow, the album is less than the sum of its parts, somehow.
We are young, we are tree
I like the album a lot more than on first listen. Being able to buy it for £1 helped a lot. A lot of people – some of whom I trust, many who I don’t – have raved about this album, and so I keep listening and waiting. I’m still waiting on a metamorphosis. Maybe it won't come, maybe it will, one day.

Whereas Serotonin comes on sexy straight away, muttering in your ear. It's a continuation of the Jets' journey into an imaginary universe where it was '80s pop still roams the earth, unchallenged. It's polished, crowd-pleasing stuff, with just enough Mystery Jets flair and eccentricity to keep it recognisable as, y'know, something the NME would talk about.

The passion's beginning to fade a little, I think, and it's possible our time together is coming to an end. Maybe by year's end I'll feel the opposite way about these two albums. We'll see.
Which is, of course, just great. It’s more Robyn, in a year full of Robyn (though not full enough: I’m indignant about the news that Part 3 is set to be half greatest-hits, with only five new songs).

Nevertheless, this is a brilliant way to do pop music. Releasing three albums a year means that 'the new Robyn release' becomes a viable thing, something to get exicited about in the way hoary old rockers chat up in the NME. The model has an essay in it, the music is just very, very good.
Earsplosion!

I know absolutely nothing about The Indelicates. I've had a few run-ins with their music before, loose mp3s sitting around, last.fm recommendations, the odd stray blog. But I've never dipped in fully. Releasing this album on a pay-what-you-want honesty box system was all I needed to tip me over.

And I'm glad it did. It's beautiful, in a kind of old-fashioned way. It's the kind of music you remember as a sweeping waltz, gentle. Then, when I actually try and put it on in the background, it violently reminds me just how wrong I was. Underneath the laced hem of that beautiful swaying dress is a knive-toed boot.

The first reference point is the back catalogue of Luke Haines, The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder. The second is: The early 20th Century. Empire. The lust and greed at the heart of society. The Victorians trying hard to sweep all that under the carpet, and the English earning that reputation we opened up talking about. The modern nostalgic longing. Keep Calm and Carry On. Stiff upper lips. Quivering flesh. Red wine - it is red wine, right? - dripping from marble. Oh, ignore Luke, he's just smashed.

The music itself is all sharp-edged polished surfaces: the kind you smash your skull on. It's just brilliant with a turn of phrase, full of clever little lyrics I want to scribble in every notebook I can get my hands on. Beautiful music, beautiful words, dirty subjects.

The album hasn't been something I naturally come back to. It's not the kind of thing I think, hey, at last a moment to myself! I can't wait to listen to The Indelicates. It's not working it's way into my head, at least not when I'm not listening to it. But what I'm realising, slowly, is this is making me feel the way Indie music used to. It sweeps over me and through me and I don't want songs to end and I'm ready to put the album on again straight after finishing.

It's love, in an odd subtle way. Indie love.
Swingers

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Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.