The Knife’s vocalist Karin Dreijer Andersson has made a career out of glacial, metallic singing. On the fantastically spooky Silent Shout, and 2009 solo project Fever Ray, her voice was, at times, distorted to near impenetrable degrees, rendering her colder and more distant still. The ironic thing about the group’s signature tune “Heartbeats,” then, is that Karin for once sounds warm and is full of fervour. “We had a promise made // We were in love,” she cries wistfully amid sleek, bouncing synth. It’s a line that should crack hearts open, but is indeed something quite the reverse – wide-eyed in the face of new passion, she seems exhilarated. A plethora of fellow musicians have attempted to recreate this piece of Scandinavian pop brilliance, yet none succeeded in emulating Karin’s expression of ephemeral infatuation.
– Will Monotti
The New Pornographers
“Letter From an Occupant”
“Letter From an Occupant” just barrages you with fast-paced guitar riffs and singing. This has always been the distinct sound of the New Pornographers – fast-paced pop that always delivers insanely catchy hooks and melodies. With AC Newman as the brain child and Neko at the helm, it’s a winning formula. While in recent years the band has sort of slowed down, “Occupant” is from their debut album, and shows the band at their creation with more guts and in your face style. It leaves the listener feeling like they just got knocked down by a tornado. But of course, that is what always made this band so interesting.
– Brent Koepp
“Slow Jamz” (feat. Kanye West and Jamie Foxx)
With R. Kelly’s fall from grace, R&B slow jams in the noughties were somewhat outdated; but with some dazzling wordplay and a lot of help from his friends, Twista updated the sound and – for a short time – took it back to the top of the charts. Rapping in double-time, he spins the names of numerous classic and more modern smooth soul singers and groups – Marvin Gaye, Anita Baker, Teddy Pendergrass, Earth Wind & Fire, Jodeci, Evelyn “Champagne” King, etc. – into a pair of dizzying verses packed with enough sexual innuendo to make Barry White turn in his grave. However, it’s Kanye West and actor Jamie Foxx – officially credited as “featured artists” – that are running this show. “Slow Jamz” not only opens with a typically confident Kanye verse, but also introduced the “pitched-up soul” production sound he had trademarked on Jay-Z’s Blueprint album to a wider, pop audience. Foxx’s chorus hook, meanwhile, is as memorable and infectious as the legends it pays tribute to.
– Michael Dix
“Long Distance Call”
“Long Distance Call” might not totally sound like a typical Phoenix song to those who jumped on the bandwagon come the release and invincible force of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Beginning on a flurry of jangling guitar and bass it takes a sudden drop, stopping pretty much completely, bar a steady drum pattern and some settling keys. It catches you off guard on the first listen but once you become familiar with it, you realise that the juxtaposition between the fast and slow sections are essential to the song’s success, making the reviving and mobilizing chorus all the more powerful and adding effect to Mars’ expertly nuanced vocal delivery. He drives the phrase “It’s never been like that” like into your head you soon enough begin to realise that it actually has never been like that, even though you have no idea what that is or was or what it was like before or is now.
– Ray Finlayson
“Weak Become Heroes”
[Locked On; 2002]
Mike Skinner’s debut album as The Streets, Original Pirate Material, could justly be described as one of the defining articles of 21st century British culture, but amazingly it’s success wasn’t just limited to it’s home shores, finding favour with US critics who, I’m sure, spent as much time puzzling over Skinner’s provincial slang as I did as a teenager trying to decode Wu-Tang lyrics. “Weak Become Heroes” details Skinner’s own mid-’90s raving experiences, the highs (“Tune reminds me of my first E // Like unique, still 16 and feeling horny”), the lows (“The girl in the café taps me on the shoulder // I realise five years went by and I’m older”) and the journeys home (“Grab something to eat // Maccy D’s or KFC”), over a smoky, churning piano riff and a skipping garage beat that sounds like a precursor to a lot of the dubstep and “funky” of the last couple of years. Skinner went on to have many, much bigger hits, but this track remains the best and most thorough exploration of his world.
– Michael Dix
“Clint Eastwood” (feat. Del tha Funkee Homosapien)
Amazingly enough, “Clint Eastwood” is the first single I recall going out to buy all by myself in an actual shop (remember those days?). Despite my brother’s attempts to mock me for liking the track (“the drumbeat doesn’t change at all!”), I persevered through their flimsy taunts. Looking back I don’t regret it at all despite the comical image of a spectacle-wearing, unfashionable young kid favouring a hip-hop-influenced and rap-heavy track, like some mirroring image of Marcus in About A Boy. I listen again now – it really has been years since I’ve spun it, shamefully – and it’s pretty much exactly as I remember it. The melodica, the haunting bounce of the bass and piano and swirling strings all recall a left field take on that classic western theme music, but it all sounds fitting for Albarn’s (or 2D’s) monotonic voice all while perfectly juxtaposing the smooth rhymes of Del tha Funkee Homosapien – the lyric “Fearless sensations that you thought were dead/ No squealing, remember that it’s all in your head” is still awesome. I often look back on my younger years wondering what the hell I was thinking when I was doing certain things, wearing certain items and so forth. But with “Clint Eastwood” I can look back almost proudly and see I made at least one right decision back then.
– Ray Finlayson
[Ed Banger; 2007]
I get songs stuck in my head, as most everyone does. “D.A.N.C.E.” does something else when it gets there. It builds colonies and and massacres the natives, and just never ever leaves. The skuzzy, perpetually in-the-red beats, the obnoxiously effervescent synth sounds bouncing around, and the melodic refrain. It seems like something that would get old very, very quickly, but it hasn’t; this song is still an instant party that I always want to attend. I realize how asinine that last sentence was, but I feel like it was the best way to transcribe my appreciation for this track. Now just get out of my head, Justice.
– Bill Delaney
[LaFace / Arista; 2000]
One listen to OutKast’s “Ms. Jackson” and you’ll have the chorus stuck in your head for hours. It’s tough to explain why exactly it happens, but OutKast is astoundingly proficient at writing a hook and pairing it with obtuse rhymes. By 2001, Big Boi and Andre 3000 had moved toward a mix between eccentricity and pop smarts that might even have had more in common with Beck than the Dirty South movement that spawned OutKast in the first place. That shift is clearly present in “Ms. Jackson,” an apology to the real-life mother of Andre’s ex-girlfriend, Erykah Badu.
– Andrew Steadman
[Sub Pop; 2001]
I have a brother who loves Bon Jovi. Now there’s nothing wrong with liking Bon Jovi; he’s the sound of a generation passed, full of huge Americana choruses and echoing statements with guitars and drums. But in all honesty, that’s as far as his musical taste really seems to go. And my musical snobbery thus leads me to conclude that he’s not the brother to go to for advice on what I should listen to. So I’ll have to admit that when I was playing “New Slang” and this brother of mine stayed to listen and commented on how nice it was afterwards, I was a little surprised. Here was a man who I associated with only appreciating huge grand and obvious sentiments in music, going for the lighter side of the coin with more abstracts and obtuse lyrical content and really rather enjoying it. But then again, anyone would struggle not to find this pleasant one some level. It’s so extremely likeable with it nodding guitar melody and smooth vocals that it could easily be the significant track of a teenager’s summer love or just background music to a dinner party their parents hold one evening. But as much as I make it sound like this is only likeable in passing terms to the majority, tracks like these are important, even if they are just of that purpose because they bridge the divide between hollow verbose pop songs and finely tuned indie folk tunes making for a common ground between people. And heck, it’s made me realize maybe I don’t know my brother as well as I thought I did.
– Ray Finlayson
Yo La Tengo
“Night Falls On Hoboken”
Listening to “Night Falls On Hoboken” is like lying on your back on the beach at night, looking up at the stars with the tide tickling your feet as it comes in. Gradually as the song progresses over its 18-minute stretch, Ira Kaplan’s vocals trail off, the guitar becomes ever so slightly more dissonant, various other layers of ambiance are added and the drumming becomes slightly softer until that too fades away. By this time the tide is up around your head and shoulders and the water in your eyes is blurring the night sky ever so slightly. In the final minutes when there is nothing but guitar remaining, you are swept off and out to sea and into a peaceful sleep.