Stress, & Lack Thereof

I put it to you that Justin Timberlake is an unlikely hero of mine. But the lustrous, laser-guided R&B of “My Love” and “LoveStoned / I Think She Knows” made FutureSex/LoveSounds a landmark release; no-one even attempted to try and match it. Continuing the idea that Timbaland saves his best production tricks for his near-namesake, we now get “Suit & Tie“.

Recycled horn samples punctuate this slick, buttery slice of funk, which precedes Timberlake’s third coming, The 20/20 Experience. The twinkly rolls of harp and barely-there scratches of electric guitar evince the idea that Timberlake isn’t trying to make a ‘big statement’ pop song here. The brazen sleaze of “SexyBack”, this is not. That said, there are enough well-intentioned stylistic touches to give “Suit & Tie” a hyper-modern sheen. Even a limp, indolent guest rap from Jay-Z can’t spoil the effortless good times and high life on display—even if it takes away from the gloopy barrage of synths that hovers beneath it.

From breezy, crushed-strawberry pop, to brutal, mechanistic electronica that’s the definition of ‘intelligent dance music’. “Full Of Fire“, the lead single from The Knife‘s fourth album Shaking The Habitual, is a punishing piece of work, especially when set to its chilling video (below, directed by Marit Östberg).

Production, as for the Timberlake cut, plays a huge part in the making of “Full Of Fire”. The synths pulsate and groan and cry out in anguish, and all manner of clattering, squawking noisemakers infect the song’s dead air. Throughout, there are relentless, terrifying rhythms, hammered out on digitised tin pans and typewriters and crushed bodies.

Anyone who knows The Knife’s music will have come to expect the characteristically meddled-with vocals of Karin Dreijer Andersson. Here, they are alternately caked with a crust of incomprehensible crud, and then bent into a brooding, malevolent growl. This is a threatening, complex composition, with snatches of disparate horror that make their entrance, shock the listener, and then make way for the next. Structurally, it’s several stages removed from the ‘haunted house’ of The Knife’s breakthrough release, Silent Shout, which was released seven years ago but which still sounds innovative today.

Finally, a mention for the mesmerising “Digital Lion” (below), produced with assistance from Brian Eno, which will shortly be appearing on James Blake‘s Overgrown LP. Stuttering tribal samba rhythms are wrenched apart by grumbling, 3AM bass. The lyrics are spare and as much there for texture as for meaning; throughout, they are backed up by pleading cooing that makes Blake sound like a soul-crazed Justin Vernon, from the future.

Three minutes in, the most forlorn foghorn blasts through: part death-of-the-party, part call-to-prayer, it ushers in a final, thrilling passage, with Blake’s wordless vocal protestations giddily colliding off each other. Head- and body- music in one. Brian Eno should stop hanging out with Chris Martin and co., and get back to the important stuff.

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