Tag Archives: pop

Kraftwerk’s crystal balls

The seminal German outfit had arguably been following their own advice for much of their career: “I programme my home computer, Beam myself into the future”. On two rather prescient albums, they considered what effect technology and innovation would have on society, with conclusions that are relevant today.

Continue reading Kraftwerk’s crystal balls

Spoon don’t need your soul

…because they’ve got plenty of their own.

Four years ago, people found Transference off-putting: long, melancholy songs riding on seemingly-endless grooves before cutting out mid-phrase; sparse demos peppering a nocturnal landscape of blank-eyed art rock. They were mistaken, of course, but let bygones be bygones. Continue reading Spoon don’t need your soul

Music for grown-ups

“He said, everything is messed up round here,
Everything is banal and jejune;
There’s a planetary conspiracy against the likes of you and me,
In this idiot constituency of the moon.”
—Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, “We Call Upon The Author”, 2008.

We are in an age where adults behave like children. This great unraveling is evinced by the music bludgeoned into the ears of thirtysomethings. Banal, mawkish, sub-literate pop that does a disservice to the genre’s great tradition. The gloss and sheen and sensuality of the 1980s and 1990s, when Prince, Sade and Whitney roamed (let alone Destiny’s Child and TLC), have been cast out of the temple, and false idols are worshipped. We must be at the nadir, with no brainy, chart-friendly pop to call upon. One Direction and their rudderless ilk seem to signal the eschaton. Continue reading Music for grown-ups

Hot Chip — In Our Heads

I thought One Life Stand would surely stand the test of time as the acme of Hot Chip‘s love affair with love. Just look at that title! With its lush, soulful electro-pop about monogamy and brotherhood, it seemed to set a benchmark that I didn’t think the band would try and beat. And yet. Continue reading Hot Chip — In Our Heads

Hot Chip — Night And Day

The first song to be previewed from Hot Chip’s forthcoming album In Our Heads was a whistle-stop (quasi-pun, I’m afraid) tour around the world in seven minutes. The first single, “Night And Day“, is not. Instead, it’s a slice of bouncy disco that wouldn’t look out of place amongst Joe Goddard’s record collection. There’s an elastic bassline, a helium-voiced chorus that recalls the Bee Gees (or, if you’re a little young, Scissor Sisters). Neat production tricks abound, from the odd squelch in between phrases, to the knowingly shadowy vocal fills at the end of the verses.

It’s less of an instant earworm than previous Hot Chip lead singles (“Ready For The Floor” and “Made In The Dark”), but I fear it’s going to work its way into my brain before long—even if it’s just the deadpan bridge with its black-humour couplets telling us to “Quit your jibber jabber”.

M83 and his Wall of sound

The more time I spend with M83’s recent double-album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, the more I understand its place in the history of progressive music. By eschewing the shoegaze structures that characterised their breakthrough album, Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, the band has managed to weld together the perfect kind of lengthy, wandering album. There were hints of the pop ethic on their previous full-length, Saturdays = Youth, but this time round the choruses are bigger, the vocals clearer, and the studious techno marathons reduced to interstitial passages.

If you’re looking for the album’s clear antecedent, it’s got to be Pink Floyd’s The Wall, released in 1979, which was a sprawling opus of tangled emotions and paranoia, but also, crucially, had a fair few easily-strummable hits that were then dressed up in ceremonially progressive garb. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is an awful lot more triumphant than The Wall, and it’s not convoluted by even the sketchiest of narrative conceits. All the same, the parallels are plain to see. Continue reading M83 and his Wall of sound

Chord changer, life changer

It’s the rule that 80 per cent of what’s written about James Mercer’s The Shins should refer to Natalie Portman’s gushing endorsement in Garden State.

“You gotta hear this one song — it’ll change your life; I swear”,

is what she said in the 2004 film, referring to “New Slang”. But I don’t think The Shins changed too many people’s lives, mainly because Mercer’s creativity seemed to have dried up soon after the release of 2007’s Wincing The Night Away. That album was clearly the work of an auteur and his sometime bandmates—emotionally disenchanted, studio-laden, heavy with storytelling—and the story behind this new comeback album, Port Of Morrow, does little to dispel the prevailing attitude. Very publicly, this time, Mercer shoved away his old band, bringing to bear the idea that they were only ever bit-part players. Very privately, he holed himself up in studios with Greg Kurstin, an old hand who has worked with an array of chart-friendly pop singers, to create a subtle and elegantly understated gem of a record. Continue reading Chord changer, life changer

Hot Chip — Flutes

“One day you might realise / That you might need to open your eyes.”

We know a fair bit about Hot Chip‘s love of wonky, garage, and house. We know this from songs like “Don’t Dance”, “Bendable Poseable” and “We Have Love”, and we know this from Joe Goddard’s various side-projects, like The 2 Bears. On Hot Chip’s last album, One Life Stand, they sounded sometimes exhilarating, frequently lovestruck, and occasionally like they were sweatily getting down on the dancefloor. But they never conjured up all these moods at the same time.

Until now.

Our first taste of what Hot Chip in 2012 sounds like comes via “Flutes” (see above, in a head-spinning in-studio video). At once euphoric and romantic—perhaps that’s a symptom of the cheesy cut-up vocal sample, overlaid with warm analogue bass and chords—the song builds and builds, taking on new and exciting layers of vocals, synths both arpeggiated and wailing, and pulsating percussion. It’s like a carnival, walking through a renewal of one’s marital vows.

That this marathon workout never collapses or feels like it’s treading ground is evidence of Hot Chip’s maturity as songwriters, which has progressed even further since One Life Stand. On that album, they constructed sweet pop songs with interesting production and instrumentation; on “Flutes”, they’re pushing the boundaries of pop music, with a composition that travels round the world and is still back home in time for supper. The roly-poly electric piano finale is the icing on the cake.

The effect is like putting Joe Goddard’s “Gabriel“, itself a modern classic, on steroids. And it bodes super-well for the rest of the album, In Your Heads, which drops in early June.

The most perfect four-minute pop song, distended to include an anticipatory intro which leaves you begging for that minor-to-major chord change.

Real Estate make it sound Easy

Real Estate make jangling, timeless guitar pop which yearns for a simpler time. The strumming is carefree and golden; the vocals suggest a blissed-out Ian Brown; and the mood is eternally September.

As several people have noticed, there is an elegant simplicity to their having called the opening song of their recent second album “Easy” (see above), because it certainly doesn’t try hard.

And, of even more relevance, I will be seeing these guys play London’s Scala tomorrow night. I expect good things to come of it.