Stylus had a spotlight on "sophisti-pop" yesterday, complete with a Jukebox full of classic mid-80s singles. I had a couple of blurbs included, but a surfeit of contributors meant that another couple got cut.
Without further Adu:
Sade, "Smooth Operator
The best song on offer here, and not just because it’s the only one I’ve heard a million times (though I am irrationally affectionate toward songs I’ve heard performed by lounge bands at divey bowling alleys). It’s also a smooth jazz song—maybe even the one that codified the genre’s name—that nevertheless avoids the aimless vapidity of most of its peers. This is sometimes achieved through a climactic sax trill but mostly through Sade Adu’s marvelously creamy voice (dig the supple hiccups on the “coast to coast” part). As a character study, it lacks the emotional component of some of her later singles, but it’s an exceptionally worthy debut.
Aztec Camera, "Somewhere in My Heart"
After hearing lounge-pop also-rans The Legendary Jim Ruiz Group reference Aztec Camera as an inspiration in “Goodbye to All That,” I had high expectations, but my first encounter with Roddy Frame (via Todd Hutlock’s “The Sound of Young Scotland” mix CD) was a stripped-down disappointment. Turns out there’s more to the band than just clever jangle, though, and the insistent beat and dramatic sparkle of this later effort go a long way toward making me revise my initial opinion.
As a bonus treat, here's another unpublished blurb from a while back:
Arcade Fire, "Black Mirror"
Though the Arcade Fire's strength has always been less in their wailing melodies than in their ability to build tension and enforce a sense of dynamics, Win Butler's transformation of the song's title into a tiresome mantra means that the usual slow burn of plunking piano and ramshackle drums flickers out before a sudden burst of French can save it.
I'm still looking forward to Neon Bible, though. Sasha Frere-Jones's profile of the band in this week's New Yorker is particularly good, although using Ian McCulloch as a reference point for Win Butler's voice would've been a fresher insight if my friend Dan hadn't made the same connection (upon hearing Echo and the Bunnymen for the first time) two weeks ago.