I don't know about you, but I'm feeling '22

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I made a playlist of 45 songs I loved during 2022. Not comprehensive or scientific: choices reflect the vibe feeling right. As I occasionally trick myself into doing every couple of years, I've also started preparing some write-ups about the songs and why I chose them, which I'll post below in bits and pieces.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5OYisqvrYEF61Uyv1Mx2vX?si=1dd2e47b956b4879

Tim F, Thursday, 5 January 2023 11:04 (one month ago) link

The first 10:

Pierre Kwenders – L.E.S. (Liberté Égalité Sagacité)
The Congolese-Canadian Kwenders mostly makes sweet and urbane jazzy African-derived pop that calls to mind actual contemporary African pop if everyone involved was snacking on hors d’oeurvres (counter-argument: does not the recent work of Wizkid, Omah Lay et. al. already possess this quality? Equal parts caviar bumps and actual bumps?). But “L.E.S.”, its title already a manifesto, swings out the front gate of the portentously-titled “Jose Louis and the Paradox of Love” like the work of a different artist, a different universe; somewhere between afrobeat and Larry Levan disco, its clattering drums and glowing synths might have emerged from Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas the early 1980s, while Kwenders’ commanding bandleader declamations put me in mind of Shafiq Husayn, echoed-out to infinity as if to say “this intervention too will be degraded by time”. On the other hand, the iridescent Edge-guitar of the second half serves as a reminder that only from decay can we end up with diamonds.

M. Geddes Gengras – Discovered Endstate Always
In mid-December, I had a brief but fun bout of pneumonia. At the height of my fever and lethargy, I retired to bed at 5pm on a Saturday and played M. Geddes Gengras’ ambient album “Expressed, I Noticed Silence”. The echoing guitar chords and dreamy synth washes – like a deconstructed dub of The Cocteau Twins’ “Victorialand” – took on a too-real vividness that at the time seemed almost painful, like light flares on overexposed film. Needless to say, post-illness, the music wasn’t quite so earth-shaking, but it remains exceptionally lovely, at once ominous and utopian. And sometimes that we need to pay tribute to the things we hear in music that were never even really there in the first place.

Insides – Shade
Insides’ comeback album of last year was lovely on early impact, but I didn’t return to it much: a well-timed reclamation of the sound of the duo’s magical 1993 debut “Euphoria”, it also could not help but crouch somewhat disconsolately in the shadow of that peerless achievement. An orphaned single has a better shot of standing on its own feet, and “Shade” does that, though by leaning further into what always already made Insides such a bewitching proposition, the opening synth sparkles and resonant piano tones subsiding into a patched, hole-strewn awning of burbles, pings and refracted shards of light. “Don’t ease the tension, ohhh, don’t ask questions,” Kirsty Yates sings, and there must be few more archetypally Insides lyrics. So too with “I was close, I was close enough, close enough to touch” (as an aside, Yates’ purring vocals also sound in much better form here than on last year’s material). “Shade” perfectly captures Insides as a proposition as well a band: inhabiting that anexorically thin space between the point where the too-much of sexual satisfaction remains satisfying and the point of it becoming actual pain, the precise moment after getting everything you wanted and before never wanting it again.

Bitchin’ Bajas – Amorpha
I heroically resisted referencing Steve Reich in the above Insides write-up, but give up here: it’s hard not to think of Reich when listening to “Amorpha”, in fact it’s hard not to imagine the band thinking of Reich as they conjure up this concoction of deliquescing chime-loops, softly and endlessly clattering cymbals and gently probing bass. Alternatively, you could pause and remember The Necks, or perhaps remember The Necks remembering Miles Davis’ “In A Silent Way”: there’s a similar sense that any attempt to maintain awareness of the music’s subtle changes will be lost under the wave of its hypnotic sweep (though at under 10 minutes, “Amorpha” is more concise than any of these reference points). Memories of memories seem like an appropriate frame for this music: its beauty can seem equivocal, like you’re bringing to life a scene from the past and wondering, “was it even like this”? Against that interpretation, the sheer rigor of the music’s clockwork patterning makes a kind of claim that beauty is not a product of memory or imagination but of sheer will. “You will never have this” / “Even you could have this” – the two lines of inquiry are as tightly intermeshed here as the glittering patterns of the arrangement.

Junior Boys – Night Walk
Junior Boys know more than most about beauty so ephemeral it seems to trail off like mist or vapor, and their 2022 album takes this knowledge to its logical conclusion, with songs that never seem to coalesce, never seem even to try to. In truth, this caught me by surprise: I had a major Junior Boys binge in the middle of the year, but it mostly focused on the 2011 album “It’s All True”, the group’s most extroverted and songful release. “Waiting Game” is at the opposite end of the spectrum, so introverted it seems a surprise that you can even hear it play. But the music burrows under the skin of your awareness anyway, and “Night Walk”, the advance single I’ve lived with the longest, has gotten the furthest, its low bass burbles and whispered vocals evoking the steam rising from your mouth as you breathe in the wintry night air. It never exactly goes anywhere, and doesn’t seem like it wants to, happy to just sit in a becalmed reverie at the world around it. “When something’s right”, Jeremy Greenspan sings, but then his (already content-devoid) confirmation that “it’s just right” gets lost in a (very quiet) swell of sound, like the outside world rising up through your earphones to gently drown out your consciousness.

Tomaga – Osiris’ Theme
Having entirely missed Tomaga’s 2021 album “Intimate Immensity”, this year’s EP “Extended Play 2” offered me a handy opportunity to pretend to be on top of things. Slippery, swirling and chameleonic, Tomaga make post-rock crawling from a swamp of jazz and electronics and vague hints of world music and exotica, at once verdant and fetid – I’m reminded of nothing so much as O’Rang, Lee Harris and Paul Webb’s underrated immediate post-Talk Talk duo. Flushed with woodwinds and clattering drums, the perfectly-titled “Osiris’ Theme” embarks on a mysterious, portentous lurch that feels like a funeral procession. Halfway through, though, the arrangement is interrupted by a recurring woodblock pulse, and in response the drums become lighter, faster, taking on some of the fleet-footed drum & bass echoes that seem to dominate contemporary jazz. Led by the woodwinds’ return, the arrangement’s lugubrious procession ultimately reconvenes, but watchfully, muscles tensed, always on the verge of becoming a chase scene. O’Rang, yes, but “Osiris’ Theme” sounds unabashedly marinated in Morrocone too.

Szun Waves – New Universe
I’m fairly unapologetic about typically going for jazz which is both tuneful and melodramatic. Clocking in at a very efficient four and a half minutes, “New Universe” distills this formula to an almost cynical essence, its skyscraping saxophone solo darting through a relentlessly intensifying obstacle course arrangement of stark string slashes, bass churn, crashing cymbals and melting synthesizer runs. The last fifty seconds chart a slow climb down from the tune’s quickly-achieved, adrenaline-fueled fight or flight hysteria: a panic attack and a coda of slowing, still-labored breaths.

Lucrecia Dalt – El Galatzo
I’ve struggled with Dalt’s abstract electronic soundscapes in the past, but “¡Ay!” presents a very different proposition. The sales pitch for the album is that it sees the Berlin-based Colombian artist returning to the music of her childhood – salsa, bolero and so on – for a set of intricately produced late night music. Supposedly the album tells the story of a UFO crash landing on earth, its alien inhabitant forced to encounter humans for the first time. I don’t really notice the narrative, but it works well as a conceptual frame for this music, asking “how would the familiar appear if you’d never experienced it before?” The answer would appear to be something like the later work of Tom Waits stuck in a bar in Bogota, though instead (or perhaps rather, because of that) I am most intensely reminded of Lhasa’s similarly engrossing masterpiece “The Living Road”, which charted a similar course between classicism and unyielding modernism. “El Galatzo” is a dense web of percussion, strings, woodswinds and Lucrecia’s own murmured spoken word vocals, and while if you concentrate you can hear the care and planning that has gone into its construction, it sounds as if it just emerged from a dense thicket, fully-formed – as seductive as it is mysterious.

Beth Orton – Friday Night
Beth Orton’s “Weather Alive” album was one of last year’s unexpected delights, a delicate exploration of the shadowy, expansive folk-rock that John Martyn explored on “Inside Out” and “One World”, the recently-acquired frailty of Orton’s vocals held aloft by gorgeous arrangements that seem to billow and loom like the clouds her lyrics frequently invoke. On “Friday Night” she sounds even more fragile than usual, almost as if singing a eulogy to herself as a life of dreams and disappointments flashes before her eyes (but perhaps avoid too close attention to all the lyrics, with their occasional, somewhat on-the-nose references to Proust and madeleines). The effect reminds me of Joni Mitchell’s 2000 orchestral recreation of her own “Both Sides Now” (alternatively, Mitchell’s paean to the follies of both youth and age, “Come In From The Cold”). “Friday Night” reaches towards some of that wizened romanticism, and in so doing also, inevitably, also reaches towards the territory that The Blue Nile made their own. It’s surely not just a titular similarity that makes me flash on the latter band’s elegiac celebration of simple pleasures, “Saturday Night”. Paul Buchanan would surely agree with Beth when she sings “And our sorrow makes the city shine / we never had to feel the pain.”

Miranda Lambert – In His Arms
“In His Arms” first appeared on “The Marfa Tapes”, a simultaneously relaxed and (for me at least) oddly taxing collaboration between Lambert, Jack Ingram and Jon Randall from 2021. It sounded lovely there too, but I prefer the song in its sweeping, shiny, studio-produced form on Miranda’s 2022 album “Palomino”, the arrangement’s sound burnished until each guitar strum seems to glisten with warm, unshed tears. If it’s not quite the pinnacle that was 2019’s “Dark Bars”, this is still among Lambert’s very best and most devastating songs. “I been a rolling stone, a tumbleweed,” she sings achingly, “looking for the right one to come find me / but the wrong one always sets me free / I wish I was in his arms tonight.” And here is Miranda’s songwriting skill on stark display: I’m not sure any other singer operating today could so effortlessly combine desire, loneliness and rigorous self-examination without giving the game away (which, to Miranda’s credit, she rarely does). “In His Arms” never asks for your pity, would disdain it if you offered it, but that simple pride is its most affecting quality.

Tim F, Thursday, 5 January 2023 11:05 (one month ago) link

it’s the most wonderful time of the new year

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Thursday, 5 January 2023 14:55 (one month ago) link

love that m geddes gengras album

nxd, Thursday, 5 January 2023 15:15 (one month ago) link

looking forward to reading these and checking out the songs

sault bae (voodoo chili), Thursday, 5 January 2023 15:17 (one month ago) link

xxxpost yeah, was already hearing Palomino as a ride past eternal twilight of The Marfa Tapes: through downtown Marfa, under the stars, 'til I squeal w delight---bravo Tim, will check your other picks.

dow, Thursday, 5 January 2023 19:48 (one month ago) link

looking especially forward to the achterna write up

nxd, Thursday, 5 January 2023 20:37 (one month ago) link

Good stuff!

Ned Raggett, Thursday, 5 January 2023 20:39 (one month ago) link

Will enjoy that. Can't believe I omitted Insides from my (much shorter) end of year comp. Beth Orton makes my list, too.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1q3UmHNqIaDAJlAIhC2s5n

djh, Thursday, 5 January 2023 21:57 (one month ago) link

The Lucretia Dalt album was a great find from the poll for me, I put it on at a dinner party the other night and multiple people were asking who it was (in a good way).

Amorphia is pure pleasure too.

change display name (Jordan), Thursday, 5 January 2023 22:10 (one month ago) link

thank you tim, this is always a real pleasure. and hope you're fully recovered now too!

o shit the sheriff (NickB), Thursday, 5 January 2023 22:21 (one month ago) link

Au Suisse - Savage
Counting Kelley Polar’s string arrangements for early Metro Area records, he’s been collaborating with Morgan Geist for over twenty years, and it’s hard to think of two artists who sound more influenced by each other. So you could describe their teaming up as Au Suisse as inspired, inevitable or redundant, depending on your level of generosity. Strictly speaking, not much happens on “Savage” or the rest of the Au Suisse album that you’ve never heard before, and that’s leaving aside that, as with almost all their work, the sound is deeply rooted in eighties disco - this song’s gently percolating synth lines, stereo panning drums and murmured vocals could easily find a home on a mixtape featuring Geist’s “Most of All” or Polar’s “Entropy Reigns” (remarkably, both those tunes are now 14 years old). Unless, perhaps, it’s a certain subtle air of melancholy - would the drums have trudged so slowly but doggedly before? More to the point, has the music of either musician ever felt so loaded with signification? Primary credit here goes to (what I assume are) Polar’s lyrics: as near as I can tell, “Savage” is a mediation on how the wild innocence of love “in the moment” cannot help but be lost, replaced by the fossilised fakery of memory, reflection and storytelling. “In the wild I couldn’t see just how much you meant in my world of solitude, then distorted memory,” Polar whispers, and later, “your will was strong and you never acquiesced / and I could only fantasise”. An elegy to a love that could never be? “Savage” culminates with the declaration “I couldn’t save the savage,” but it’s unclear whether Polar means he couldn’t save his lost almost-lover, himself, or the chimerical, fragile thing between them, flickering briefly and then subsiding into a shadow world of reflection on thwarted desire.

Arctic Monkeys - Sculptures of Anything Goes
By comparison, Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner ensures his vocals are punctiliously enunciated, yet his meanings are ever more slippery. “How’m I supposed to manage my infallible beliefs, while I’m socking it to ya? Performing in Spanish on Italian TV, some time in the future, whilst wondering if your mother still ever thinks of me… Hallelujah.” These read and sound like a series of punchlines, or perhaps, rather, hypotheticals - how did you get here, Alex, and how will you get out? The significance lies not in any particular proposition but in their accreting menace, and the vague sense that Turner might continue on forever if not stopped. The music, rumbling, ominous, tormented and wounded, yet somehow still polite, still stylish, calls to mind the mid-90s works of aging artists obsessing over Weimar Republic 1930s - David Bowie’s “Outside”, Gavin Friday’s “Shag Tobacco”, that moment when the future and the past sounded one and the same. It’s a meditation on decadence, of course, but Turner’s blithe conflation of the alien and quotidian imagines a Weimar all around us, painstakingly recreated in our every boring moment while we continue to carefully ignore the void. If the lie ultimately fails, it will only be because it’s gone stale, lost its seductive power. “Baby, those mixed messages ain’t what they used to be.”

Ethel Cain - American Teenager
I first heard “American Teenager” at the same time as I was watching the second season of Euphoria, and now the two are inextricably linked in my mind. Euphoria, of course, is brutal and flashily excessive but ultimately sentimental in its depiction of the tangled webs we weave when first we practise to receive love. Cain’s songs do something similar at times, which you might guess from the state of the nation feel of the title of this one: what does it mean to be an American teenager at this particular moment? Not much good, apparently. “Grew up under yellow light on the street,” Ethel begins, “Putting too much faith in the make-believe / Another high school football team.” So far we’re in the realm of the young American misfits, grifters and dreamers that populate “Born to Run” or “Jack and Diane”. But then: “The neighbor's brother came home in a box / But he wanted to go, so maybe it was his fault / Another red heart taken by the American dream.” Whom does Ethel wish to save here? And whom to blame? She sings these lines sweetly but blankly, exhausted, evacuated of emotion, an unreliable narrator who (like Euphoria’s Rue) is rendered temporarily, narrowly reliable for the simple reason that she has lost the motivation to colour in between the lines of the things she sees around her with sympathetic or judgmental detail (alternatively: maybe the exculpatory lies we tell about ourself provide us with the only and best language with which to tell truths about others). Another reference point: “Fast Car”, and its suspicion that no vehicle yet able to be bought is powerful enough to let you outrun yourself, or the quaint future tragedies you already carry inside you. Cain seems to invite the tragedies to surface, to declare themselves. “Say what you want”, the chorus asks, “but say it like you mean it, with your fists for once / A long Cold War with your kids in the front.” The melody here resembles Sigala and James Arthur’s “Lasting Lover” (minus the latter’s Eiffel 65 synth hook), and at first glance you might say that “American Teenager” couldn’t be further from that deeply familiar, yearning vision of true love. But maybe not? The hazy production of “American Teenager”, poised between 90s pop-rock directness, gleaming 80s synth-pop largesse and shoegaze haze, gradually gives way to a ringing guitar riff that directly recalls the solo in Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”, and I like to think the reference is very deliberate. No matter how clear-eyed she tried to be, a small town girl living in a lonely world might still need to have room in her heart for hope.

Tim F, Friday, 6 January 2023 04:26 (one month ago) link

Samia - Mad At Me
Samia’s “Show Up” was one of my favourite songs of 2021: vaguely angsty, confessional 90s-quoting pop-rock, with Samia deploying admirable economy in sketching the barest outline of a tale about looking back on the people you fell in and out of love with when first moving out of your parents’ house, like Vanessa Carlton’s “White Houses” if you just chopped out two thirds of the lyrics. On the basis of “Mad at Me”, you’d be forgiven for suspecting that Samia just doesn’t do detail (though other recent tracks like “Kill Her Freak Out” suggest otherwise) but that doesn’t stop the song from being a gorgeously blank, shimmering synth-pop confection, the kind of song that I keep wishing The Veronicas might still have it in them to make. “Mad at Me”, fittingly, is about the pain of standing for something, anything: “Hiding is easy, it's like a daydream / You can be nowhere all of the time / Hurts to be somewhere, 'cause you gotta stay there / After you say what's on your mind”. Truth telling, for the narrator, has given her nothing but territory she now feels obliged to defend, her moral righteousness revealed as a series of hungry mouths to feed; the chorus, tellingly, is a repeated, plaintive “Are you still mad at me?” - think of it as a kind of mirror image of Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies”. The song also feels like a simpler version of an old Taylor Swift song (“Enchanted” perhaps) with its rudimentary but still-effective layering of chorus, bridge and male-sung middle-eight at its conclusion. In a year when Taylor deliberately rejected her own talent for bridges, I like to think because she felt they would get in the way of her desire to relentlessly bore towards the centre of her solipsism, Samia reminds me that pop’s escapism can attain a kind of nobility, the dignity of unilaterally laying down your arms and surrendering to familiar stories and manoeuvres, to “I don’t want to know anymore”.

Tim F, Saturday, 7 January 2023 07:52 (four weeks ago) link

Flock of Dimes - Pure Love
Speaking of Fleetwood Mac, one way to describe Jenn Wasner (of duo Wye Oak, and a mostly-solo artist as Flock of Dimes) is that she combines the frenzied, madcap arrangement genius of Lindsey Buckingham with the nourishing warmth of Christine McVie. That said, “Pure Love” is perhaps the first time that one of her songs has actually sounded like a Buckingham/McVie collaboration (variously, “Hold Me” or “Never Forget” or “Everywhere”). You can hear it in how pleased with itself the synth pop production is, all splashy syncopated drums and bass pulses; as with Fleetwood Mac’s “Tango in the Night” album, Wasner considers 80s sonic motifs not as a means to attain a bludgeoning unity but rather as a source of endless variation and experimentation. You can also hear it in the gorgeous and too brief guitar solos after the choruses, trebly and frazzled like Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light”; for Wasner as with Buckingham, the guitar solo is a vehicle for embracing the enormity and complexity of emotions that the pop song’s limitations struggle to fully capture. At first glance, the lyrics to “Pure Love” are at the simpler end of Wasner’s scale, reflecting on the twin perils of scarcity and abundance in a manner that doesn’t advance the issue beyond Spice Girls’ “Too Much”: “And when I had nothing, it wasn’t enough / and when I had everything, it was too much.” But in truth, the song is about the disabling lies that these reflections embody , as Jenn later sings “I don’t want to be static, staring at the way that it was”, which later becomes “I want to be static, staring at the one that I want.” “Pure Love”, despite appearances, does not concern itself with a quest for an idealised state, but rather (as with Au Suisse’s “Savage”) with the rejection of idealisation itself. Any state we can idealise is already in the rearview mirror, and any qualities we attribute to it already a fiction. So too, you might point out, is the “pure love” that Wasner wants instead, but I suspect she knows that; it’s the desire to unburden oneself of crippling context that matters, that becomes the north point on her compass that allows her to continue to move forward.

Tim F, Saturday, 7 January 2023 23:48 (four weeks ago) link

only from decay can we end up with diamonds

Nice.

curmudgeon, Monday, 9 January 2023 00:18 (four weeks ago) link

thanks Tim! looking forward to hearing these

Paul, Monday, 9 January 2023 00:24 (four weeks ago) link

Not sure why Samia's not getting more love.

Indexed, Monday, 9 January 2023 16:59 (four weeks ago) link

Ah! thanks for doing this again Tim! Missed your thread the past year.

✖✖✖ (Moka), Monday, 9 January 2023 17:58 (four weeks ago) link

How did I miss the Au Suisse album? This sounds like the thing I'll love.

✖✖✖ (Moka), Monday, 9 January 2023 18:01 (four weeks ago) link

Goddamn that opening Pierre Kwenders is amazing already love this playlist and it hasn’t even started. Your writeup is on point too.

I should have waited for this thread before submitting my eoy ballot.

Do you write about these songs elsewhere on a blog/zine lr on other ilm threads I’m missing or is this a first? I only previously heard five or so songs in here and liked them too.

✖✖✖ (Moka), Monday, 9 January 2023 20:01 (four weeks ago) link

Thanks all.

Moka, I don't have a blog or similar any more, mostly due to a lack of time to actually write much - this intermittent exception for end of year write-ups is, at this point, something in the nature of a cultural observance, only made possible because it's a relatively quite time of the year workwise.

Tim F, Monday, 9 January 2023 23:00 (four weeks ago) link

The 1975 - Looking For Somebody (To Love)
In a recent essay that I find plenty to disagree with (and given her talent for annoying people I hesitate to refer to it at all), Lionel Shriver writes, “An authentic sense of self commonly involves not thinking about who you are, because you’re too busy doing something else.” This notion of the true self as a properly empty vessel which is filled by action can be used as a salve or a weapon (Shriver mostly opts for the latter), but in the abstract I am sympathetic to the idea that the answers we find to the question “who am I really?” can rarely be more than a composite of surface reflections, whereas the “truth” as such lies in what we do when we go out into the world. However, Shriver’s dichotomy falls short for me in that it assumes that “doing something else” doesn’t involve thinking about who you are, whereas I tend to think that it’s where most of the thinking happens, in the multitude of micro-assumptions about ourselves and reality we make without considering them which shape and constrain each action we take (the significance of which, because of their essentially thoughtless and interactive manifestation, we struggle to ever perceive). The 1975 enjoy being clickbaity, and they enjoy constructing unsettling dialogues between opposing points of view, and you could argue that “Looking For Somebody”, a song largely from the perspective of an incel teenager conducting a mass shooting at a school, is the apotheosis (or nadir) of both trends. But I suspect they (or lyricist and singer Matt Healy) would have strong views on the issue I raise above, because their songs also emphasise that character only emerges as an aggregation of discrete events and interactions. The primacy of the literal conversation (typically between lovers) in their songs points to this: the “real” you is not reflected in your innermost thoughts but in your arguments, your spontaneous back and forth exchanges, your defensive “well at least I don’t…” interjections, because this is how you learn to position yourself in relation to the world. “Looking For Somebody” doesn’t include an actual conversation, though it never stops alluding to the social conversation or conversations we have about its subject matter, its lines strewn with scare quotes more than actual quotes, snatches of phrases taken from other exchanges and then woven into a tense but blank endless present of violence: “a Supreme Gentleman with a gun in his hand” is “the type you just don’t fuck” - two different conversations spliced together and rubbing against each other painfully. The song is readily open to criticism for several reasons, not least being its clear intention to at least temporarily place all of its actors on the most even plane of moral equivalence possible: “somebody picking out the body of somebody they were getting to know” (referring to the shooter lining up pre-planned targets) becomes “somebody picking up the body of somebody they were getting to know” (referring to a survivor retrieving the body of a schoolmate). Healy doesn’t admit it directly (beyond a general complaint “maybe it’s all just fucked”) but this sort of journalistic reportage cannot help but shade into a nihilistic worldview.

But then, Healy doesn’t pretend to have any answers, and anyway “Looking for Somebody” works better as commentary on gun culture or incel culture or the liberal critiques of each, but on popular culture generally, with the archetypal pop song about love as the prime example. The arrangement, all shimmering synths and glittering guitar licks and celebratory handclaps, is exuberant to the point of mania (it reminds me a bit of Alphabeat’s deliberately utopian “Fascination”, but you could construct a broader lineage of progenitors from “Footloose” to “Faith”), and it’s difficult not to be swept up in its heady charge. This contrast between surface appearance and underlying content reminds me (there I go again) of Fleetwood Mac circa “Mirage”, specifically Buckingham’s superficial return to pop with songs like “The Book of Love”, “Empire State” and “Eyes of the World” – songs that are on the one hand shiny and uplifting while on the other too-intense to the point of seeming slightly crazed and a bit uncomfortable to sit with. Buckingham expressed this contradiction mostly through his vocal performances, with their constant, near-violent spillover excess of feeling; Healy, by contrast, never breaks character except through his lyrics, which feel particularly ugly when shoehorned into the contours of the pop song. “Looking For Somebody” peaks with a chorus from the perspective of the shooter, “You should have seen it man, I was all ‘bang, bang, bang, bang’, looking for somebody to love”, and I’m sure that people are already singing along to this at live shows, knowingly or otherwise. If there is a purpose to placing a worldview so pathological at the very apex of such a superficially uplifting pop song, and then inviting you to not notice or not care, it might be to make the point that pop songs about love are already inherently pathological, their alluring promise of emotional plenitude not just fictitious but in some senses dangerous, writing cheques that we will struggle to cash; if so, perhaps our intense identification with the sheer intensity of such popular songs in turn risks impairing our capacity to tolerate a less fulfilled existence (though there is a counter-argument that perhaps instead it makes that existence more tolerable).

Shriver also says, “Young men who feel no personal sense of purpose are inclined to perceive that nothing else has a purpose, either. They don’t just hate themselves; they hate everybody. In telling people who’ve been on the planet for about ten minutes that they already know who they are, and that they’re already wonderful, we’re inciting that malign, sometimes homicidal nihilism. Because they don’t feel wonderful. They’re not undertaking any project but, according to the adults, inertly embody a completed project, which means the status quo is as good as it gets — and the status quo isn’t, subjectively, very good.” As this quote indicates, Shriver mostly blames the modern education system and what she perceives as a culture of enforced affirmation. I have my doubts: more dangerous, I suspect, than telling young people they are inherently valuable is telling them their life should be meaningful, should be perfect, that the default position is to be happy and fulfilled and that if that is not happening for them then there is something wrong, with them or with the world or both. It’s a lie of capitalism, of modernity, of self-help progenitors, of celebrity culture and influencer culture, and of the pop song. We’re all looking for somebody to love, because we’re told that’s what we deserve. What happens when reality departs so radically from pop’s promise? And is there a role for pop to play in grappling with this departure?

Tim F, Monday, 9 January 2023 23:03 (four weeks ago) link

* "...and anyway "Looking For Somebody" works better not as commentary on gun culture or incel culture..."

Tim F, Monday, 9 January 2023 23:05 (four weeks ago) link

fantastic writeup

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Tuesday, 10 January 2023 00:34 (three weeks ago) link

I prefer the song in its sweeping, shiny, studio-produced form on Miranda’s 2022 album “Palomino”,

who wouldn't?

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 10 January 2023 00:35 (three weeks ago) link

Ade - Opposites
Ade’s “Midnight Pizza” was one of my favourite albums of 2021: an ungainly but compelling mixture of emo-pop and dance music, now resembling Cut Copy, now The Postal Service, now almost Blink-182’s “Miss You”, but most frequently all of these things mashed together. It’s not an easy-to-sell proposition, but the single “Another Weekend”, a gregarious house tune about being exhausted by the prospect of going out, deserved to be huge. And so too, I think, does “Opposites”, which somewhat appropriately managed to snag a release through Kitsune (not that it appeared to help at all). As with “Another Weekend”, “Opposites” is an anthem of perverse interiority, sketching out a relationship where the members’ respective friendship circles each think their friend’s new partner is all wrong for them: “Your friends think I’m too much, too little, too drunk at the function,” Ade murmurs, “emotionally stunted, a chipped glass in a cabinet, aloof and unavailable, and stubborn as a habit, which isn’t totally invalid.” That final self-deprecating qualifier is typical, as is the absence of any resolution, the avoidance of a bullish/abdulish “but when we get together, it all just all works out” reassurance. And yet “Opposites” plays like a much more confident tune: the chorus (delivered by another singer, or maybe Ade’s voice manipulated to sound like a male house diva) declares “our friends think we’re opposites / falling in and out of love” as if it’s a statement of dancefloor devotion, and the skipping, bouncing house beat, burbling bass line and rising synth swells feel flushed with the promise of new romance. Eventually an immensely cheerful piano vamp takes over, and I start to think that maybe happiness was the point all along: there’s discomfort in being misunderstood, but also a certain release, even a kind of freedom.

Tim F, Tuesday, 10 January 2023 21:00 (three weeks ago) link

Love love love this thread. Really looking forward to the rest of the writeup (am saving the rest of the playlist for then, although I had completely missed that Young Marco had a single out this year so I did at least listen to that).

Incredible post on The 1975, too.

toby, Wednesday, 11 January 2023 20:01 (three weeks ago) link

"opposites" is a jam, i likely never would've found it without the thread tim started

sault bae (voodoo chili), Wednesday, 11 January 2023 20:04 (three weeks ago) link

Carly Rae Jepsen - Western Wind
One challenge for Carly Rae Jepsen is how to square her image as a peddler of “perfect” pop with the desirability of projecting an individual personality that can grow and change over time. In truth, Carly appears always to have had a predetermined strategy for managing this straddling exercise, whether articulated or not, being to marry her predilection for carefully sculpted pop songs and fixation with pop’s most recurrent themes (the first rush of romance, the ache of unrequited affection, the emptiness that is left over when you excise a former lover from the life story you tell yourself) with a personal charm that seeps through the pores of her songs most commonly in the form of a casual and somewhat prolix plain-spokenness. The latter becomes more apparent with each successive album, I suspect as Carly has become progressively more confident in her capacity to stretch the rubber band rules governing her preferred form of pop song without tearing or breaking them – possibly helped by the fact that (with apologies to Robyn) at this point Carly may have become the central reference point to which other pretenders are required to relate back.
You can hear this confidence in the lyrics to “Surrender My Heart”, the otherwise typical-Carly opening track of her most recent album: “But the benefit of all the broken hearts / that I broke before they could break me / is a little bit of life regrets / I won’t bring that mess to you when you’re with me”. Carly’s songs increasingly circle around the relationship between trauma and personal growth, and she can sound like someone talking about past lovers on Twitter, sounding off on red flags and personal love languages (another potential name for the parent album “The Loneliest Time” could have been “I don’t know who needs to hear this…”, but that was already taken by another excellent 2022 release). If she wished, Carly could use these devices to enable her to work with the forms of pop at a slight knowing remove, using scare quotes like protective tongs and rubber gloves. But there’s never really any sense that Carly holds herself apart from (let alone above) the pop forms she works with; rather, the frequent casualness and occasional modernity of her lyrics feel like a kind of leaning toward pop or at least a certain notion of it, and a refusal to accept that it lacks room for her idiosyncrasies; if pop is the perfect outfit, it still requires the living, breathing performer to literally embody it. And if it cannot accommodate discussions of the risk that a Tinder date will harvest your organs, what purpose does it serve?
With its breezy, Weatherall-esque arrangement of chunky, multitiered breakbeat loops and softly shimmering synth chords, thin high vocal, and lyrics for once more vaguely allusive than filled with detail, “Western Wind” would probably remind me a bit of Saint Etienne (not to mention One Dove) even if they didn’t have a song by the same name, and even though Saint Etienne foregrounded their own attempts to commune with the spirit of pop in more overt and ideological terms than Carly probably ever will feel the need to do. Another similarity: having established early on that they could readily “do” the idealised pop song, the trio exhibited a patience with that concept, needing neither to rush towards or away from it, content to sit with it or near it, now glancing towards it, now away. Perhaps in part because it rubs shoulders with much more familiar efforts on her most recent album, and perhaps in light of Carly's long string of prior winsome and gregarious tunes, “Western Wind” strikes me as sharing this quality of patience, a satisfaction with not disclosing its mysteries, with not resolving quickly into something more recognisable - not because there's a need to be afraid of such things, but because, well, why rush? You can always go home later when home can be in all directions.

Tim F, Thursday, 12 January 2023 05:52 (three weeks ago) link

“looking for somebody to love” write-up is easily the best thing i read about the 1975 all year. hard song to write about

flopson, Thursday, 12 January 2023 15:57 (three weeks ago) link

: the “real” you is not reflected in your innermost thoughts but in your arguments, your spontaneous back and forth exchanges, your defensive “well at least I don’t…” interjections, because this is how you learn to position yourself in relation to the world.

*nods* This is one of the themes of my rhetoric class. Beautiful review.

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 12 January 2023 15:59 (three weeks ago) link

Ashli - Only One
Most genres of music have broader and more varied emotional palettes than their detractors allow, but I do feel like R&B and country share a distinctive habit of mining the extremities of both introversion and extraversion. On “Only One”, Ashli’s depiction of the former is near-disabling: “my love lies to me, and whispers things untrue,” she murmurs languorously over a soft bed of synth chords, “it tells me my obsession can lead me straight to you.” The music, woozy and whispery and perfectly suited to the gossamer vocals, builds as slowly and delicately as Ashli’s narrative; her admission that “I’m shy, and a little in my head” is matched to quietly ticking hi-hats, while the following “I’m too quiet… I wanna get to know ya” heralds the arrival of the most wafer-thin of drums. The slight hint of confidence in that final admission is really just an index of the character’s obsession, the sharpness of her fantasy: her “mind is writing fiction” but her “heart still thinks it’s real”. Similarly, I like to think that the slow build of the arrangement is trying to evoke the sense in which Ashli’s romantic daydreams have taken on a life and momentum of their own, their false reassurance somehow self-sustaining. It’s hard to credit that while writing this song Ashli would not have thought about Alicia Keys’ “You Don’t Know My Name”, the title of which even makes an appearance in the lyrics here. But Alicia was an unavoidably confident performer, her character’s shyness mostly indicated by the occasional leap to high note sighs matched to tinkling, descending background music. Ashli carefully avoids not merely Alicia’s charisma but also the older song’s sense of scale, and “Only One” bears the same relationship to Keys’ song as Bic Runga’s “Sway” bore to Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn”, that much more deeply and inescapably enmeshed within the furrow of its own brow. Ashli can evidently be confident, albeit gently so, as the gorgeous disco of alternate single “Dance Again” demonstrates. But - though the vocal resemblance isn’t particularly strong - she reminds me a bit of Mya, happy to dwell inside the vulnerability of her song’s characters, feeling no need to break the spell and remind you that there’s a diva behind the curtain controlling the display. At the end of “You Don’t Know My Name”, Alicia summons up the courage to pick up the phone and call her crush to (successfully) arrange a date. For Ashli, the romantic engagements she imagines in her head are so satisfying that reality is reduced to a tiresome and underwhelming distraction that can be indefinitely deferred.

Sudan Archives - Home Maker
“Home Maker” has various false starts before it really gets going, as if Sudan was spinning a radio dial to find the right groove – there’s even a brief horn solo vaguely reminiscent of the intro to “Lady Sings The Blues” which is then never heard from again. It’s a display of power from an artist with ideas to spare, quietly announcing “look at all these stubs of other songs I could have written; just know they would have been great as well”, and it reminds me of old Timbaland productions that would throw in a new arrangement into the outro just because it was possible. Even after it properly gets going, “Home Maker” keeps mutating profligately, quickly moving from one idea to the next: a jittery drum machine, spiralling strings, hand claps, zig-zagging synth zaps, tribal percussion, all just ingredients that Sudan adds to the bowl with a negligent toss. Against this vibe of impatient virtuosity, the seeming accommodation of the chorus lyrics, “I'm a home maker, home maker / Don't you feel at home when I wait on ya?” But I’d be very surprised if “Home Maker” in truth has anything at all to do with domesticity. The homes Sudan makes are her songs, and she’s proud of all the little touches that make them so inviting, but also fully aware that their verdant profusions are made possible by the mania of her vision, and that the reclusive mad genius can be as discomforting as they are fascinating, as prone to disaster as success (“I just gotta run up on my plants… hoping that they’ll thrive around the madness). Consistent with the music, Sudan slips easily between spoken verses and sung choruses, the former offering a cornucopia of “fruits and juices, all that you desire, Fiji water from the islands”; accordingly, the arrangement keeps switching up to offer new curios to catch the eye, confident that if you don’t like one, another will come along that is more your speed. But the real pleasure of “Home Maker” resides in how well it ultimately hangs together despite these magpie qualities; for Sudan, the choice between the delights of the exotic and the comforts of the familiar is resolved by the creator’s skill in weaving them together into a home with many rooms

Diddy ft. Bryson Tiller - Gotta Move On
When Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” was unleashed on the world, it prompted an orgy of purported deep readings: was Beyoncé exceeding the scope of her cultural authority in so liberally sampling Big Freedia, a queer icon? Was “Break My Soul” really about the great resignation, and was Beyoncé as a very wealthy person entitled to comment on it? Was she encouraging us to wear masks outside? If so, should we be appreciative? These and other questions - loaded onto a song that was in truth fairly slight, and deliberately so - partly reflect a somewhat vexed state of affairs in contemporary music criticism, where there is a strong institutional desire to connect pop culture artefacts to whatever we have decided are the pressing social and cultural questions of the day, but, perhaps due to hard economic realities, limited capacity or inclination on the part of writers to execute on this imperative with anything beyond what one might generously describe as a surface level reading. Diddy’s “Gotta Move On” was released at the same time as “Break My Soul”, but didn’t attract the same socio-cultural eyes of Sauron. Some of that simply reflects that Diddy is not a cultural critique behemoth on the level of Beyoncé (though he is probably responsible for more great music overall), but even if that wasn’t the case, “Gotta Move On” would resist such feeble analyses. “Get in your bag, stay in your bag”, Diddy murmurs, while Bryson repeatedly realises that, since his erstwhile girlfriend doesn’t want his love, he guesses that he has to move on. There’s a verse in there, but you probably won’t remember it. Mostly, this song is about its hypnotic, knocking drum loop and swirling, winsome synth chords, affirming where the vocal line purports to be forlorn, a warm jet stream lifting Bryson’s vocal from a complaint to a declaration of independence. Bryson has realised his situation only belatedly, but rather than lament his former confusion, the music celebrates his newfound clarity. Put another way, the vocal and the arrangement intersect on the terrain of resilience, and I cannot help but feel that the song’s absence of storyline, absence of character, is quite deliberate. Rather than impose these details on the listener, “Gotta Move On” invites us to situate the song within our own lives, as a wellspring of nourishment. Lacking any surface to read from, this song reflects its audience that much more clearly: it will show you as much or as little of yourself as you inject into it.

Empress Of - Save Me
One way of measuring the desperation quotient of desire is the desiring party’s willingness to dispense with the forms of courtly romance. One of my favourite R&B tunes of the past 20 years or so is Nivea’s “Parking Lot”, whose self-hating and unvarnished hunger can be summed up by its brutally unromantic chorus refrain, “Meet me at the McDonald’s parking lot.” “Save Me” is not quite so unburdened but social graces: “I need a baby, not someone who’ll play me”, Empress Of cautions, for whatever that’s worth, though her frequent requests for her potential lover to save her are ambiguous; does she mean for life? Or until it’s time to head back to the bar? In support of the latter interpretation, there’s her repeated offering, “if you need me, baby, take me in the back of the room tonight”, where she’ll be waiting in the meantime. Unlike “Parking Lot” “Save Me” is not about the helpless desperation of desire, but rather its overwhelming compulsiveness, the ruthlessness with which it crowds out any other thought or consideration. The arrangement’s allusions to disco - the melodramatically slashing strings in particular - are a perfect complement to this vibe, but the too-close clatter of kettle drums that dominates the song creates a vibe of sweltering urgency that feels distant from disco’s tantric plateaus: whatever is going to happens will have to happen before this song’s five minutes are up, or it won’t happen at all.

Tim F, Friday, 13 January 2023 22:53 (three weeks ago) link

Janice Iche & NKC - Afterlife
Janiche Iche sings with a sense of too-smooth seriousness that, over the course of a whole album, can come across as portentousness, but which in single shots such as “How You Flow” and this song, both collaborations with producer NKC, can be captivating. Ironically, this may be her most portentous effort of all: “send me to the afterlife,” her self-harmonising multitracked vocals coo, “I want to know what is there.” It’s possible she’s talking about taking drugs - her 2022 album is pretty big on weed in particular - but the conviction of her performance here suggests she should be taken literally. What the lyrics do not give away, the seductive but menacing arrangement confirms: this is a dark seance. Pounding percussive hits and looped backwards strings imply that Janice’s desire is self-abnegating, and that whatever lies beyond is not friendly. “Afterlife” is also distinguished by being relentlessly rhythmic but never even hinting at dancing; its drums are threatening and ominous, perhaps slightly beautiful in their steely resolve, but you’d sooner die than call them groovy.

George Riley - Time
George Riley’s instructions on “Time” are charmingly explicit: “I'm very protective over my space / I don't let no one in unless I'm satisfied they're good and humble / Don't like to mingle with the fickle and fake / I like good guys and nice food / Happy weed and camp shoes / Don't like to small talk, I like to conversate / I like gold chains and drinkin' booze / Sunshine and fucking too.” But for all their directness, they’re couched within a song that feels more hesitant, as if George expects her assertiveness will be challenged before long: “so if you happen to see me having a good time / I’m just warning you to be wary.” And she’s wary, too, even defensive as she lists her preferences as if carefully placing a series of protective wards around herself. As with previous masterpiece “Power”, “Time” rides a papery, stuttering drum and base rhythm, but whereas “Power” fully embraced that style’s kinetic energy, “Time” always sounds fitful, uncertain of its strength, the rippling beats speeding up and slowing down while a dolorous bass guitar churn provides the song’s only constant. George herself sounds different, too, less jazz-inflected, higher pitched, slightly grainy and almost blank, recalling Kelis who similarly would manage to imply more by intonating less. What “Time” does share with “Power” (along with “Sacrifice”, another ace 2022 tune that heavily overlaps lyrically) is a keen awareness that the demand for autonomy is not costless socially; the price of freedom is, at a minimum, eternal vigilance.

TSHA ft. Clementine Douglas - Dancing in the Shadows
Producer TSHA has had one pretty good idea: realising that UK garage was always as enticing as a general concept - its winning fusion of R&B, house and rave music - as for its specific sonic calling cards. “Dancing in the Shadows”, as with her other would-be anthems, is like someone attempting to recreate UK garage based only on a description of what it sounds like, marrying jumpy and syncopated (though not that syncopated) percussion to impassioned and intermittently chopped-up diva vocals. It’s not the same: “Dancing in the Shadows” has little of garage’s Jamaican heritage and none of its habitual eeriness, but it swaps these qualities out for a straightforward, trance-inflected anthemism and a general “more is more” aesthetic that, combined, suggest Orbital or Ada, if either turned their minds to attempting to crack the current charts. Perhaps I like TSHA’s approach because it feels like she succumbs to the same sorts of manoeuvres that I would not be able to resist busting out if I was a producer, always wondering if the song could be improved by yet another arpeggio or fleeting, galloping counter-rhythm (there are several points here where the arrangement feels like it’s being stomped over by horses). At the song’s various pinnacles, Clementine Douglas’ vocal is cut up and refracted across the track like a laser beam, merging almost indistinguishably with winsomely harmonising synth patterns, beacons that light up the sky and leave no room for shadows at all.

Tim F, Monday, 16 January 2023 09:05 (three weeks ago) link

Tyla - To Last
There are lots of notable qualities about amapiano, but among them I am always particularly struck by how techno-like in their construction even the most pop-minded productions can be: you can hear it in the length and spareness of the intros and outros, and the frequent sense that, left to their own devices, the grooves would simply clang along forever (the former qualities facilitate, and the latter is exacerbated by, amapiano tracks’ capacity to be mixed in with other, very similar grooves so as to create a vibe of an endless and unchanging present). “To Last” exploits the additive nature of amapiano arrangements - which typically control the levels of tension and intensity by adding and subtracting elements to or from a basic groove. In Tyla’s hands, this allows “To Last” to shift from mournful reflection to… what? My best stab is that the song’s instrumental passages, structured around a booming and rippling logdrum bassline archetypal for the genre, together with ratatat snares and odd sound effects, imply the inevitable and dark outcomes of Tyla’s ex-lovers actions - loneliness, lovelessness, regret and possibly social ostracism or even untimely death - so that Tyla herself doesn’t have to. Her vocal, gentle and regretful, quietly observes her lover’s demise, but there is no vindication here, and no victories - only consequences.

Mr JazziQ ft. F3 Dipapa, Lemaza & Boontle RSA - Jaiva
It’s no criticism (not of the music, at least) to say that my engagement with amapiano mostly treats the music as largely interchangeable. That’s partly on me, of course, but it also reflects many qualities of the music itself, in particular its deliberately narrow band of intensity, that seemingly inexhaustible capacity to bubble but never boil over. Anyway, interchangeability is a frequent and perhaps even crucial quality of most emergent dancefloor sounds; it does, however, pose challenges when engaging in an exercise such as this where the task is to identify something specifically special about a particular tune. It would be easier to focus on another outlier or genre fusion like “To Last”, and I could more readily have tackled something like Tiwi Savage and Zinoleesky’s excellent “Jaiye Foreign”, or the Virgo Deep remix of Amaarae’s “Sad Girls Love Money”. But I chose “Jaiva” because it’s one of the amapiano tunes I loved from 2022 that I felt really exemplified the music’s appeal for me. In particular, the relentlessness of its rhythmic attack: it feels like every component of the song is designed to service to the groove - the way the hand percussion seems to skip over the surface of the arrangement like a stone across a lake, the near-drone of the chanted vocals and in particular the way the percussive bass ripples of the log drums seem to cut in and around the vocals, pausing to flatulently fill out the spaces in the arrangement where they can. The call and response feel of the vocals (and frequent heavy breathing, like one or more of the vocalists have just completed a footrace) mirrors the arrangement, which feels like an elaborate dance between competing elements, each balanced between understanding their place within the grander scheme and striving desperately in a last-ditch bid for your attention.

Tim F, Wednesday, 25 January 2023 05:54 (one week ago) link

i caught onto "gotta move on" rly late in the year, good song

dyl, Wednesday, 25 January 2023 06:48 (one week ago) link

Thanks Tim for your thoughtful write up on "Looking for Somebody." As you know, some of the points you've made were argued about in the 1975 thread (kicked off here for those interested in reading). I had not caught the subtle change in lyrics (which Healy loves to do, generally), and these types of examples, along with the undeniable melody and construction allow me to appreciate the art despite my reservations and general discomfort with the subject. It is undoubtedly a great song.

At the live show I attended, they opened with it and the crowd went unsurprisingly wild. Healy used his guitar as a gun to "snipe" his fans while they danced in excitement. I found it all humorously macabre, and in your words, "slightly crazed." Having sat with it, I do agree that's much of the point, I just don't find it particularly clever or endearing.

Most troubling to me are Healy's public statements about the subject matter, which seem far less profound or interesting than your commentary.

Indexed, Wednesday, 25 January 2023 22:37 (one week ago) link

I keep reading this as I feel like I’m 22 and I’m very happy for you.

Jeff, Thursday, 26 January 2023 17:54 (one week ago) link

@ indexed for me the thing is the objections you bring to it arent to the subject matter but to the tone in which the subject matter is addressed , in a song that is specifically about how tone manipulates us.

xheugy eddy (D-40), Sunday, 29 January 2023 04:19 (one week ago) link

I do agree at least that Healy does not describe what the song is doing very well - but we wouldn’t forgive a song for falling short of its writer’s objectives, so I’m not inclined to dampen my appreciation when the opposite occurs.

(The thread title is a homage to Swift’s “22” btw)

Tim F, Sunday, 29 January 2023 21:04 (one week ago) link


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