Tuesday, 5 May 2015

THE BEST 11 TRACKS OF 2015 SO FAR January-April

She likes music, too
Readers of Eyewear blog will know that one of the things we have been doing obsessively for ten years is to every so often single out a number of popular music tracks for readers to enjoy. So long as critical evaluation keeps its hands where you can see them, it seems a legitimate act to perform - indeed, critical offerings of support to artists and potential listeners can be seen as a generous sharing, or at least a friendly gesture - a sort of passing of those old orange foam Walkmen headphones - here, check this out.

What we offer today is a first-third (January 1-May 1) list of the 11 2015 tracks (all available online at places like Spotify and of course as digital downloads to purchase) from artists across a variety of genres, but all of whom create popular music that you can dance to, or listen to on the radio, or, care about in an isolated indie way. Some are big, others obscure. Now, there's no Madonna or Mark Ronson here (all were on the longlist) and no Sufjan Stevens, Blur, Hot Chip, Django Django or Dutch Uncles (ditto) - and not even Mumford or Imagine Dragons - we enjoy their music, and own those LPs, but they weren't quite the tracks that have so far made us swoon the most (but in time they may well end up on our end of year list). I suppose what we at Eyewear blog look for is the insanely catchy, the ear-worm - with an emphasis, given it is May, on the summer coming. Here goes, in order of duration (briefest to longest):

1. 'So Freakin' Tight' by Tough Love - here we have an update of The Kinks' classic 'All Day and All of the Night' - a crazed, bawdy, indeed rudely louche insistence - simply put - on how hot a particular "girl's body" is, and hence how "freakible" she appears to be.  Simplistic, basic, objectifying, and even vaguely sinister, but also as truly blunt and to the point - as animalistic a message as this sort of pop music can get.  The purist minimalism is as such impressive, and hard to get out of the mind once the sexually provocative mantra has been imprinted.

2. 'GDFR' by Flo Rida, The Lookas, Sage The Gemini - a classic rap-dance tune, which merges a cheapie game show style tune with more bawdy explicit lyrics - this manages to throw a bunch of outlandish claims (she's "wetter than Katrina" being one of them) and references to "double entendres" that makes the whole thing a fascinatingly self-reflexive rhetorical exercise. Plus, it's insanely unforgettable.

3. 'Octopus' by Wire - there isn't a leaner, meaner, more darkly indie track on this list, or out this year - nor one more relevant politically. "There's always someone who thinks they have a plan/ Someone with a whip hand who thinks they are a man/ A rescue package that will barely save the day/ It will be implemented without further delay" - an anthem or elegy for our Age of Coalition Austerity. The beat has something of the old Spiderman cartoon series theme - it's Wire at their very best, after all these years.

4. 'Back To Me' by Jack Savoretti - fans of three-pack-a-day vocalists like Joe Cocker or Bonnie Tyler will enjoy this man's pipes. Savoretti is likely another pre-packaged commercial lightweight (I don't care) - but this is by far the most enduringly soaring love anthem of the year for me so far - a modern rock ballad with enough guitar strum and whiskey-breathed heart to sweep me up to its mountain heights.

5. 'Quo Vadis' by Lower Dens - "Don't rely on me/ You know these things happen/ It's a one in a million/ It's a single drop in the ocean/ And then we all disintegrate"... "they don't know anything/ they never seem to know anything/ or maybe they won't say" - "I want to be with you alone"... rarely have dream-pop indie lyrics so captured the intense, brooding, existential mysteries of love-angst. This song may be about evolution, the absence of God, or a teen crush gone wrong - or all three - one thing is clear, the moment the chorus breaks in, this gets up there with the all time greatest indie classics. Sublime.

6. 'Doing It' by Charli XCX with Rita Ora - This may be the sound of state of the art machine-tooled corporate mainstream commercial radio pop for the masses - and it's true there won't be many Adorno fans who appreciate this one - but harmless sweet pop songs about dancing (double entendre indeed) simply don't get more fun, and memorable than this - this vaults these gals into the same league as Madonna, Rihanna, Gaga, Britney - it's that good.

7. 'Solace' by Fyfe - This is a slow-burn - a hauntingly intelligent pop ballad with the intensity of 80s Peter Gabriel, but with the lightweight changes of a falsetto singer - "living isn't easy when you've been free" - again, another deeply engaged exploration of either existence, or a break-up, or both. Lots of echoing backing vocals, and twanging guitars. "Love has overcome things I didn't know that it could" at minute 2.00 is surprisingly subtle and lyrically wise. Lovely and brilliantly crafted. An anthem for moody youth.

8. 'Don't Blow It, Under The Sea' by We Are Scientists - Not a group/ band I know well, a Brooklyn-based twee sounding outfit to be sure - but this oddly-titled song (is this a warning for divers or some eco logic?) which happens to get away with the big cliché of the moment, a Raymond Carver reference ("when we talk about love") is, nonetheless, a swirling, slow-moving, sucrose-infected confection of pure West Coast meets East Coast pop genius.

9. 'Firestone' by Kygo, Conrad Sewell - It is hard to believe this song is new.  It sounds like a summer hit we have known since birth - it is in short a priori a classic use of the ascending chorus culminating in cheesy Euro-trash synths. Potentially a distilled version of every Eurovision winner, it still manages to be thrilling, moving, and either profound, or just sounding like it is. I can imagine teenagers around the world swaying to this at summer camp, in festival fields, and on their own, listening and feeling a little more loved, a little more warmed with goodness and hope. Give this a Nobel Peace Prize.

10. 'Oil Spill' by Man Without Country - Now this does sound like an eco warning. I love the dreamy-scary sound this band produces, or reproduces - this is a clear melange of that Brooklyn retro 80s vibe, where electro lyricism indie pop emerges - think Bear In Heaven, in thrall to OMD and you have it. The lyrics here are weird, ominous, and curiously erotic ("I want to swim in your oil spill) - this is like the sort of music you might expect people to enjoy in the year 2115. Familiar yet somehow less human, more toxic. It ends with a vague echo of Laurie Anderson's "petro-chemical arms".

11. 'The Power Cosmiq' by Cannibal Ox - The most fascinating, complex, and intelligent music in the pop world is currently being made by African-American recording artists exploring the incredibly rich traditions of the rap/ hip-hop/ r and b worlds - and no rappers seem as smart, uncanny, or compelling currently than the returned Harlem-based Cannibal Ox. "I'm a righteous man, I walk upright" - ominous, gripping, and threatening, with a backdrop of moaning choral ululations, this could be the anthem for a summer of protest and anger in an America exhausted by racism and injustice. But it's more than that, it's a complex five-minute metaphysical thinking through of what ails the planet, human beings, and being a man - it even mentions "Islamic doctrine and John Hopkins". "Genuine but so anxious".

Here are songs across a variety of genres as good as new popular music can be - a dastardly mix of lyricism, feeling, style, and formal ingenuity - all these are crafted gems, that at times rise above their moments, their motives - to create strangely exciting experiences.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: 'Love, Texas' by Marriages; 'California Nights' by Best Coast; 'Pure Wasted' by Rebecca Clements; 'King' by Years & Years; 'Oscar Wilde' by Warmduscher; 'What It Is' by Jermain Jackman; 'Bonfire Season' by Gallows; 'Black Flag' by Du Blonde; 'Crosswords' by Panda Bear; 'What I Want' by Will Butler.






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