from the sea [pop jamz 08]

Kings of Leon - Closer

Sex on Fire, in my opinion, actually isn't that great -not only is the chorus lyric frankly embarrassing, but the song itself seems strained and laboured, a problem the Kings have ran into a few times before. If you're looking for this band's true contribution to the year's pop scorchers, look no further than track one of Only By the Night.

Kings of Leon have always had an ability to create substance from style, but on Closer that operating principle is taken to its most majestic limit. Almost minimalistic in its composition, defined as it is by the sombre, soft, modulated guitar line and deliberate drumming, both progressing at a languid yet certain pace that, when coupled with the gaping secondary guitar, opens up into an absolutely tidal movement.

This is pure atmosphere becoming pop and returning to the ether, but not before swallowing us whole.

And it has nothing to do with poor old Caleb's tacky imagery of spooky houses and stormy oceans, though it has everything to do with his yearning delivery.

chips [pop jamz 08]

Crystal Castles - Air War

Ah, these trebling, gutted digi-shards - couldn't possibly be mistaken for pop music could they? Well, I guess there's two ways you could say they are.

One just because these, no let's take an example and say this song - Air War - is of the now; contemporaneity one of pop's hallmarks. But not in just some narrow stylistic or trend sense (although that probz applies, choppy electronic music quite popular at the mo'), moreso in how this music pathologises our current techno-cultural condition. It is as if Air War is made up of the sonic bits and bytes of our day; the sound of our text message alerts, touchpad options, voice mail hang ups, laptop battery warnings, the noise an ATM machine makes when it spits your card back out. In one sense I guess this music always then teeters on the brink of being techno-fetishist, in the sense that it aestheticises this condition, it almost earmarks itself for the soundtrack to some IT company's latest cutting-edge commercial (too late).

This is partly why it initially seems an absolute joke that the outfit has a nominal 'singer' in the form of Alice Glass, whose role in the projection of anything resembling the unmediated human voice has long since been forgotten. Instead, Glass stands in as the voice-response, automated text-to-talk fembot that populates our phones and GPS systems, that nondescript femininity (woman always vocalises the machine) but now cut up into a thousand tiny little shreds like nodes in the network.

And yet all this likely off-putting-sounding stuff - vocal and digital snatches cut up and retracked as a song - is nevertheless thoroughly massaged into what is also a pop sound (not just 'concept', like 'being trendy'). Because the interesting thing about this song is really that its bits are far more than just 8. Crystal Castles enlist a fucking terabyte of engineering and data to produce sounds as if they came off a gameboy and kids electronic piano. All the glitch is also given a nice fat, rhythmic bass as bedding. And that's this song most finds its pop mark: over-production in service of simplicity. The only difference this time is that this simplicity is not rendered silk but mutated blip and blop. Because everything still functions in this song, integrates and hooks.

This is not the aesthetics of error, then, as one might initially peg Crystal Castles as making palatable. Instead, what they do allow us to swallow is the fact that no matter how many beeping buttons we push, how many times we get cut off, flipped out, dialled away, processed, connected, reconnected, no matter how much digital shredding our bodies and voices are subjected to/authorise, there is still something working in this techno-totalised culture that is soothing, satisfying, coherent. And Glass is the flesh in the shell.

Or you could just say they're pop becoz their album is not that gr8; stick w/ well-known, catchy singles like this one and Crimewave or Alice Practice.

tricky little gun [pop jamz 08]

Jack White / Alicia Keys - Another Way to Die

Quantum of Solace
is unaccountably awesome - wafer thin plot, brilliant action, a sense (but not sensibility) of emotional complexity, no real baddy. Then there's the Jack White and Alicia Keys theme, Another Way To Die.

So at the start it's all orchestral percussion section, with some far-out motorcycle-motor guitar effect, news-bulletin strings, etc etc.

But it's the subtle little things that really work this song into something great. Not the plinking piano key high notes that Alicia adds at various points throughout, though they are cool.

Nah, it's the really left-of-centre bits like the purposefully electronic-drum-kit-sounding electronic drum kit that lays down the bottom end, then the more-piano-than-piano lower notes that hang like butcher's hooks at around 0.36, then the hi-hat that sounds like the thing has had twenty cracks cut out of the metal. All of this over-produced/under-produced weirdness in the instrumentation is sweet.

But the best thing about the whole thing isn't even there yet - it's not only the fairly interesting gender tension between Jack and Alicia that gives this song a dynamic, but the fact that Jack (I'm inclined to think) has produced this thing in just the most bass-less, tinny way as possible so their voices come out as if they were gloriously untreated and without a bottom end. Like they're on one side of a concrete basement, mic at the other.

This textural quality lets itself loose across the whole song, actually, and every instrument starts to sound hollow, worn-out, ragged. Like a White Stripes song almost! But there's still the fairly controlled orchestral issues floating around the place, and a fairly rad guitar line, even some horns at some point.

Jack throws in a guitar solo quite irreverently over the top of what would normally be the 30 second highlight of this kind of song (a Bond theme song) - Alicia's wordless 'ooo bu do' female vocalist thingy, farting guitar just prickled all over it.

Quite possibly the most inspired moment, however, is the duelling, corkscrew 'o's that grate between Jack and Alicia at the song's climax (in trad narrative sense, ie, somewhere in the middle, then denouement) - it's got a bite and urgency behind it like Bond's never seen. It sucks up the whole song behind it, it's a barren desert no matter how much shit is going on.

And the lyrics, well 'another' gets trotted out like there's no tomorrow, the whole thing just piling up possibilities that can only end in the pseudo-nihilist sentiment of "It's just another way to diiiieee!" - it's more like Jack and Alicia are saying, what's this all for? It's just another way to kill and resurrect the Bond theme in a single blow. Quite suits this visceral Daniel Craig Bond, methinks.

to control me [pop jamz 08]

Ne-Yo - Closer
[Unavailable thanks to DMCA drones]

In lieu of some bullshit year end wrap, I thought I might cap off the year with a series of posts on what I reckon are the year’s best pop singles, and try and get down to just why each one is so great.

First in line would have to be the smoothest darkest silk this year, Ne-Yo’s Closer. It comes off all intimate, erotic club romp on the first listen, with requisite elements: fast tempo, soft-padding doof beat vs wafered hi-hats, acoustic guitar loop for ‘live-ish’ authenticity quota, programmed handclaps, etc.

There's something quite melancholic about the whole thing, though. Beyond the very thematic thrust of the song, the whole seductive, possessive female bullshit, there's a kind of sadness in dude's voice that sort of gets echoed by the backing midi strings and acoustic guitar breaks, that can't quite be pulled under by the fast tempo, hi-hats and house beat.

The lyrics themselves contain some interesting bits. The first verse ends with this kind of transfer between certain object and unclear subject, a bit of a collegiate poetry manoeuvre but it shifts a kind of awkwardness into all the follows this:

"And I swear I know her face
I just don't know who you are"

The rest of the thing is this kind of sensory imbalance, with this fugitive female figure (I guess that's unavoidable, shit, I know, but unavoidable) kind of reorienting sound and sight as she pleases in order to rope in our protag:

"Turn the lights off in this place
And she shines just like a star
Turn the music up in here
I still hear her loud and clear"

It's like the club becomes a dream becomes some kind of washed out, darkened place of ambivalence and then even abandon to an uncontrollable force.

But this force, for me, isn't so much the woman's sexual advances as some kind of other feeling that is haunting Ne-Yo, something I'd like to call grief. Because notice in the chorus he's not referencing the woman at all, she's only there at most a distraction, or only the personification of a far more diffuse sense of resigned sadness that he is left crooning for almost the entire final half of the track.

The truly remarkable thing about this song for me, then, is how in both mood and lyric, it blurs the 'sense' one feels in romance with that in loss - something one can't stop doing (crying? making out?) that you "don't want to escape" or can't possibly?

It's even sadder then that the song itself never really comes to its own conclusion, that momentum that builds behind the whole thing is like a kind of dissipating.

So why not let's rewrite the lyrics, because this is how I heard them the first time, and it's how I'd like to keep them:

"And I just can't pull myself away
Under a spell I can't break
I just get by
I just get by"

Melancholy by (accidental) subterfuge; as is pop’s want.


we'll poke ur eyeballs out!

There is something about this song, deceptively simple sheen and not much going on you think save for some RJD2 / Caribou vibing?

But then you listen a couple of times and it all works itself out. Dude has latched on to the natural poetic meter of the Japanese language, its own inherent musicality contained within the pitch-accents of its formants, the way it trips along in ups and downs but in quite a harmonic, uniform sense. Like the highs and lows of the piano and beats that make up Makkuro Kurosuke, which builds itself from a Hayao Miyazaki film quote.

Gejius - Makkuro Kurosuke