cartwheels into your heart

Friday, December 22, 2006

I must confess, I don't understand how Ciara's "Promise" has become the only single this year by the so-called crunk'n'b diva worthy of having praise heaped upon it: it's #47 on Stylus's year-end list, #42 on Pitchfork's, and Andy Kellman's AMG review calls it "tremendous, one of the sexiest, slow-tempo, non-breakup songs of the past ten years" and one of the only real highlights on The Evolution.

It's not that it's bland*, at least in terms of instrumentation and production: the slathered-on vocoder certainly speaks to me (even though T-Pain is making better use of it these days), and I'll even buy Alex Macpherson's argument that Ciara's vocal limitations are capable of creating a certain emotional effect (even though it's hard to hear her usual breathiness here as anything other than weak and unengaging). It's just kind of muddled, and there's little about the song that sticks with me at all.

Which would be par for the course as far as a lot of modern R&B goes, except for the fact that this is Ciara, and she's had two far superior singles in 2006 alone! I can sort of understand critics ignoring "So What," since it's not technically her song, although she dominates it so much, both in personality and sheer time behind the mic, that the mere "ft." credit she receives hardly seems fair. Not to mention how the blase, sing-song refrain is perfectly suited to her glamorous reserve: the Field Mob dudes sound scrappy, but she's too cool to even eke out the entire word "you" at the end of a line, rhyming "thug in yuh" with "here for yuh" as though swallowing a yawn.

The melancholy air of "Get Up" is reminiscent of last year's brilliantly simmering "Oh" (although not quite as much as Cherish's "Do It to It," which is a copy right down to the creeping chord changes), and it features the same midtempo dance-floor exhortations as "1, 2 Step" -- but it's also perhaps Ciara at her most joyous. For instance, note the playful way Ciara doubles that light pizzicato line that's introduced as counterpart several bars earlier: the tick-tock cadence ("the. club. is. jum-. pin'. now.") works as a neat build to the excited rush of "Get up!" And then what about the way that Chamillionaire's fluid rap transitions into him suddenly singing the third verse? It's unexpected -- since when does the cameo rapper ever step on the singer's turf? -- but it flows so naturally, it's a sweet bonus.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Yay, Jody Rosen and I have the same least-favorite song of 2006. This along with other year-end revelations can be found at the Slate Music Club, where Rosen is joined by Jon Caramanica, Ann Powers, and Carl Wilson.

Of major music scribes, Wilson is probably the single biggest champion of Final Fantasy, but I'd assumed that enough bloggers and webzine critics would have been into He Poos Clouds to guarantee it a placement higher than #49 on Stylus's Top 50 or anywhere for that matter on Pitchfork's, where nearly three-quarters of my personal top 20 placed. If I'd been allowed to vote on the Stylus list, I might've been able to shake things up a bit, but probably not too much.

Monday, December 18, 2006


I did a top-five list with blurbs for last week (although it hasn't gone up on the site yet), and while I was at it, I figured I could fill in the rest of the ballot that I submitted to the Jackin' Pop poll. (Still torn about whether or not to contribute to Pazz and Jop this year. On one hand, there's the genuine thrill of inclusion the last couple of years: "Ma, I'm in the Village Voice!" On the other, we're talking about a paper that has fucked over Robert Christgau, Chuck Eddy, and Michaelangelo Matos, three of the best, most consistently interesting music critics in the world. I guess there's always Hinder.) And so here we are:

10. Hot Chip, The Warning

An uneven record from a gang of pasty white British dudes that still contains some of the past year's most rewarding pop pleasures, from the energized, anthemic refrain of "Over and Over, " to the alluring blue-eyed croon and insistent twitch of "Boy from School."

9. Herbert, Scale

On paper it sounds like disco: lavishly sweeping strings and anonymously fabulous singers both subservient to a dance beat -- but for Herbert, fine details matter more than grand statements, and so his Technicolor orchestra here is microscopic, wrapped in a warm blanket of mellow clicks and glitches, and no less captivating for all the tweaking that implies.

8. Kaki King, ...Until We Felt Red

It's hard for me to dislike an album whose antecedents seem to be the kind of moonlit, back-porch post-rock I loved at the turn of the century: Tara Jane O'Neil's Peregrine and Papa M's Live in a Shark Cage, most obviously -- but the young guitar whiz also demonstrates her versatility by interspersing meditative, finger-picked instrumentals with eerily poignant vocal numbers like "Jessica," which borrows some of Jeff Buckley's compelling reverie.

7. Grizzly Bear, Yellow House

They've been said to resemble the softer side of Animal Collective, and this ensemble indeed copies the celebrated noise-folk outfit's wondrous harmonies and acoustic trance, but Yellow House is redolent less of the bounties of nature and more of the shadows of the past, with the hushed, creeping "Marla" seeming not so much a cover as a palimpsest, all the dusty, wine-stained markers of the attic where it was discovered still preserved and seeping through.

6. Destroyer, Rubies

Dan Bejar is the only New Pornographer I've ever had any use for, and though I admired the bold romantic artifice of Your Blues, his previous record under the Destroyer moniker, it was the sprawling Rubies that really sold me on him: an organic tangle of ramshackle piano and bleeding guitar, overlaid with endless strings of words that Bejar clearly relishes, as they build upon his own mythology.

5. Joanna Newsom, Ys

Girl's getting a lot of guff and p-word drops for her long song-suites, but pretentious only makes sense within the insular realm of indie rock: no one would dare diss Philip Glass, say, for ten minutes of hypnotic harp figures. Plus, the expansiveness only enhances the thorny beauty of these fairy tales: amid the colorful swaths of orchestration, it lets them linger and breathe.

4. Junior Boys, So This is Goodbye

Two years ago I swooned for the tricky rhythms and gorgeously frozen sighs of the electro-pop duo's debut, Last Exit, and though this one's more streamlined, that may ultimately be to its advantage: the persistent beat and elastic laser synths on "In the Morning" prompt fantasies of dancing all night, eyes lifted to the darkened sky.

3. Final Fantasy, He Poos Clouds

Owen Pallett's palette consists of the polite tools of the trained composer: contrapuntal cello and ornate piano intricately darting past each other, for instance. But he's as likely to spiral into cries of anguish as he is to dwell on his own prettiness (just as the album title conflates the heavens with literal shit), and the appearance of the Charlie Brown children's chorus on "This Lamb Sells Condos" all but encapsulates the record's consuming melancholy.

2. Sonic Youth, Rather Ripped

Twenty-five years on, and these boho rock stars not only haven't lost the plot, they're making some of the best music of their career: here they condense the bright, dreamy jams of their last couple records into crisp, shimmering pop songs, albeit with plenty of detuned arpeggios and breathy art-school poetry that'll probably always serve as a signature, since it still sounds so good.

1. Girl Talk, Night Ripper

In 2006 the gimmicky fun of the traditional mash-up gave way to a more transcendent pleasure: hearing dozens of my favorite radio hits stitched together, one snippet after another, for over 40 breathless minutes. Even when the name-that-tune factor lost its novelty, I was still left with a cavalcade of thrilling new contexts that unexpectedly stuck in my craw, and as the sort of dilettante who loves Ciara nearly as much as Sonic Youth, I couldn't help feeling like the mix was designed just for me.

Runners-up: The Knife, Silent Shout; Ellen Allien and Apparat, Orchestra of Bubbles; Belle and Sebastian, The Life Pursuit; Phoenix, It's Never Been Like That; Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveSounds; The Changes, Today is Tonight; Booka Shade, Movements; LCD Soundsystem, 45:33; The Rapture, Pieces of the People We Love; Luomo, Paper Tigers.

[cross-posted on The Funky Funky 7]

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

So the Stylus Top 50 Singles list is up this week, and I've got two blurbs in the 31-40 range: Sonic Youth's "Incinerate" and Panic! At the Disco's "I Write Sins Not Tragedies," both of which were in my personal top 10. Can't wait to see what else makes the list: as you might know, I'm a total whore for all this year-end nonsense. (Only last year did I finally throw out all my Entertainment Weekly yearly wrap-up issues that I bought at the newsstand for most of the '90s.)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

New single reviews.

And a query: does anyone know of any good CD compilations of what we usually call "standards"? I'm talking Tin Pan Alley, Broadway showtunes, that sort of thing. I mean, Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Gershwin Songbook is probably a good start, but I'm looking for a record (or box set) that has Ella doing "Someone to Watch Over Me" and Peggy Lee doing "The Lady is a Tramp" and Sinatra doing "Fly Me to the Moon" -- because as much as I love these songs (I spent a good part of my adolescence learning to play them on the piano), I've got practically zero recordings. Could make for a good Christmas gift, hint hint.