With his brand new single from his brand new album, I’ll admit it’s a little hard for me to pay attention a few lines into The Weeknd’s latest offering. Now that we’re technically three albums (And more!) in, I’ve sort of heard every single way he can make dicking a girl sound like a profound, sensual melding of souls rather than just a cheeky shag. So from a lyrical standpoint, the content and overall wordplay doesn’t really get interesting until the second half of this one.
The production, on the other hand, is brilliant. Chaotic and intimidating in the first half before smoothing out to something equally as hard in the last three minutes or so. I mean, it’s not his best, but let’s be honest: Has The Weeknd ever really put out something entirely awful? No.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but away from her colourful and energetic live performance, Beyoncé doesn’t really do much with “Grown Woman” on record. The way it careens from random bits and hoots and clicks is thrilling when she performs it, but without the bombast of the live show, there’s nothing all that interesting left.
Timbaland’s production lacks a real bite to it as well. Mind you, it sounds like this more likely to be the backing track for the tour rather than the actual studio version, so perhaps the story is still to properly unfold. With Beyoncé in 2013, who the fuck even knows any more?
Pink is an artist who rarely interests me outside of her more adventurous early days and her usually brilliant second singles. You have the likes of the agonising “Who Knew” which everyone has sang into a mirror in a ridiculously overemotional manner at least once, and most recently you have the massive “Try”. This one here is probably the best of the whole lot.
“Sober” is basically the anthem to every morning you’ve woken up after a particularly grisly night out and you’re left with nothing but that sucking, hollow feeling in your chest. The song was crafted under similar circumstances, but despite that fact it’s actually one of Pink’s most profound efforts to date. It sees her properly evaluate herself and ask what she wants from herself, but also admit that it’s hard to let go of that feeling of being able to fly when you’re full of your poison of choice. It’s about simultaneously facing yet running away from yourself.
The whip-crack drums, the silence near the start of the second verse, and of course Pink’s strained vocal on the chorus as if these truths are being ripped from her all make it one of her best to date. I always find Pink at her most effective when she’s stripped of all bravado and anger and takes a proper look at herself. It only makes sense that my favourite Pink song is all about her doing just exactly that.
HeadShuffle: Madonna - Across The Sky (Feat. Justin Timberlake)
Well, I think this might actually be the first demo or unreleased track to feature on the HeadShuffle.
I should probably make a point of saying that I don’t make a habit of having tracks like this in my iTunes, as it’s so damn messy. They’re usually shitty quality because they were hurriedly ripped to avoid getting caught, they’re usually unfinished, and of course, how on earth are you supposed to tag them when they exist outside of an artist’s canon? ARGH.
I made an exception for Madonna’s “Across The Sky”, one of the best tracks she’s done in the last decade or so. How it was abandoned from the supremely terrible Hard Candy when so any awful tracks made the cut is beyond me. The breezy guitar, the insanely catchy chorus, the decent lyrics (It’s a victory for Madonna these days!) all add up to a track that should have been a very successful part of an album campaign. It’s easy the best thing that came out of the whole Madonna/Timberlake/Timbaland clusterfuck of 2008.
Alas, here we are with it mostly forgotten in the Madonna pantheon, but not by me. Stick this on if you’re in a part of the world that’s actually getting decent weather this summer, and let it inform those sunny days.
It’s a day for Headphone Icon Best Of alumni today, it appears! This track is acting as the first single off Katy’s follow up to 2011’s best album On A Mission. In a similar fashion to fellow Headphone Icon Best Of conquerer Lana Del Rey, I’m left a little disappointed here.
Sonically, it simply doesn’t leave a big enough impression on me. Tracks from the first album traded with a similar subtlety, but they never hesitated when it was time to strike with an utterly irresistable hook. “What Love Is Made Of”, for such a grand gesture, never really properly goes into the stratosphere. Similarly, I think Katy excels at the far quieter proclamations of far more complicated emotions, rather than something so obvious and brash and loud as “I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!” etc, etc.
That’s not to say she isn’t capable of conveying emotions so bold, but not with an instrumental that refuses to go on the attack and prove her love.
Lana’s first entry on Headphone Icon this year is admittedly not as positive as the many that concerned her last year, but I figured it was time for me to cover this one considering the video is now here and it’s shockingly on course to become a massive hit in US.
For me, “Young & Beautiful” is Lana’s weakest, most derivative single to date. I get that it deliberately exaggerates all her hallmarks to make it a perfect partner for The Great Gatsby, but my biggest problem is that she’s done so many better songs exactly like this. Hell, she’s done songs that moved away from this lolita persona entirely that are better.
That said, I’ll still have a lovely sing to it when I see her live this Thursday. Oh, Lana. What you do to me.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: “Biology” this is not. However, if we were to hold it against every song for not being “Biology”, we’d be left with… well, “Biology”.
I’ve given this a few days to settle in with me, and if I’m honest, I’m not really sure were I stand on “Gentleman”. I love very small individual parts, but the combination of them all results in something lesser than the sum of its parts. All Frankenstein songs like this always require something that unites all the clashing pieces. “Gentleman” is crying out for this; a recurring hook, a stronger chorus, something that ties it all together in a rough and ready little package. As it is, the whole thing comes across as an exercise in repeated momentum sabotage.
That said, I admire what it represents for them right now. It’s not exactly typical of the current popular sound on radio or even The Saturdays’ sound in general, and it’s nice to see use their recent No.1 as a springboard for something with a little more character and charm. I mean, yes, the pile up of Hollywood men at the end is eye roll inducing, but the rest of it manages to shakily stand on its own two feet as the weirdest single from The Saturdays yet. I wish it the best of luck.
I first heard of The Whip when I saw them live at the Connect Festival in 2008. I acquired the debut album shortly after that and fell in love. I saw them at King Tut’s around two years ago and it was one of the craziest gigs I’ve ever been to.
“Save My Soul” is kind of atypical of that kind of chaos though. The open pleading, and the nihilistic tone it takes, match the coldness of the instrumental perfectly. I’ll admit it’s a little one-note compared to other tracks on the album (The bonkers “Trash” and beautiful “Sirens” come to mind.), but there’s enough to make it a pleasant listen, particularly the ending section where the vocals get more desperate. Perhaps a refresher course on the entire band is required. The second record was brilliant too. The Whip are at their best when they go for full throttle insanity, and this track doesn’t really represent that. It’s a nice change during a full album playthrough though.
Outside of the terrible single cover and odious hashtag, I feel this is a great song demoted into a good song simply down to a few choices that cripple it somewhat. As glorious as Mariah’s entrance verse is, the fact she doesn’t appear on her own lead single until about a third of the way in makes it feel like she arrives too late in a song that’s already too short. Instead of it feeling like her own song or even a proper back and forth duet, it feels like both Mariah and Miguel end up hacking into each other’s time and the result is that neither of them get a chance to properly shine or take ownership here.
The DNA for a great track is all here through. The gentle ease both artists seem to have, the sparse yet effective production, and the bizarrely laid-back conceit of just hopping on a motorcycle and going wherever the road takes you is refreshing for Mariah, who musically has been incredibly tightly wound or bordering on self-parody over the last few years. If this had another minute and a half that allowed them both to mine the chemistry they have on this track, it would probably be a favourite of mine for the year so far. ALAS.
Also, a whistle note is less impressive when it’s entirely superfluous and incongruous to the song, Mimi.
What this song has to do with jerk ribs, I have no idea, but who am I to question new music from Kelis? As the first track from her tentatively titled upcoming album Food, “Jerk Ribs” sees Kelis abandon the glitzy synths of Flesh Tone for brass and funk. The result is something so effortlessly breezy and catchy that it’s hard to resent a change in sound when it appears she can make anything work for her.
If only all legal obligations ended up being good as this. Hell, if only all forfeits to avoid jail time ended up being as good as this. The first new track from Lauryn Hill in what feels like centuries arrives to us in chaos, with Hill spewing out venom for society over a schizophrenic beat. It’s appropriately crazy, isn’t it?
It’s getting more and more complicated to actually figure when a song has actually got the video treatment given the rise and rise of more elaborate lyric videos these days. But either way this is the latest track to arise from Vampire Weekend’s third album.
Pitchfork recently described this song as impossibly catchy while carrying the weight of the universe, and I can’t think of a better way to describe it. The resigned awe in which Ezra Koenig delivers lyrics about a lover’s unshakeable faith in God, all the while playing off the song’s hymn-like production is just such a melding of small and large ideas. Mind you, Vampire Weekend have always had a kind of sincerity to them that allows them to get away with such a contrast, so I can’t say I’m surprised.
One of the finest pop releases of the year is also the track that finally took The Saturdays to the No.1 spot in the UK after five years of trying. It alternates between alluringly breezy verses and a an absolute banger of a chorus, and the end in particular where every spare hook lying around the studio was crammed into the final minute is particularly glorious.
4. Paramore - Still Into You
In charges Paramore with the most jubilant chorus of the year so far. After making a career out of angsty pop-rock with hooks as big as skyscrapers, it’s strange to see Hayley Williams change gears and pull off hopelessly in love as much as she does cursing an ex’s name. After the last album being almost relentlessly and melodramatically miserable, it’s refreshing for Paramore to grow up a little and realise that you can stupidly happy too.
3. Mutya Keisha Siobhan - Lay Down In Swimming Pools
Still amazing. GET THE FUCK ON WITH IT LADIES.
2. Justin Timberlake - Mirrors
Songs about being shamelessly and hopelessly in love seem to be attracting my attention similar to how songs being utterly miserable did last year. Take from that what you will. Nevertheless, it’s the sheer size as much as the overall sentiment of “Mirrors” that draws me in here. There’s a lot of talk about this borrowing heavily from “Cry Me A River” and other Justin tracks, but I feel like he’s never really done anything this undeniably huge before. “Mirrors” just completely bowls me over. Particularly at the end of the first half where the song just collapses in on itself in string-laden ecstasy. Marvelous stuff. It’s so nice to have Justin back.
1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Sacrilege
Karen O’s tale of falling in love with fallen angel is every bit as deliciously blasphemous as you could hope it to me. Vocals alternating between dreamy and deadly as the song gradually builds and builds throughout to become some twisted sermon of the damned. The choir-assisted ending is the closest to God music has taken me this year. It makes my spine melt into nothing.
There you have it, folks. That’s how my music year has panned out thus far. Hopefully I should be more frequent in my updates from now on. It’ll be interesting how much of this list endures in eight months time.
One of the few proper highlights from last year’s Ora sees the lady herself at the helm of her biggest chorus to date. I can’t even really articulate why this is so high up this list, other than the fact it’s a stone-cold tune and should be honoured as such.
9. Foals - My Number
It should be no surprise to anyone that when Foals decide to go more pop than they’ve ever gone before, the results are outstanding. “My Number” is delightfully without pretense from a band that can sometimes get bogged down by its own gravitas. And I say that as someone who think Holy Fire is one of the finest albums of the year.
8. Sigur Rós - Brennisteinn
2013 sees Sigur Rós fill the ambient void they called an album in 2012 with thundering drums and sizzling guitars in what is easily their darkest track in years. Of course, this works completely to its favour. Jónsi’s voice is an ethereal leash to the harsh, grinding machinery below him, and effective creates something really quite unsettling yet utterly captivating.
7. Haim - Falling
The first song from Haim not only to actually to have some heat and interest to it, but to justify hype that has honestly went over my head this year. This track is atypical of Haim’s rather toothless offerings so far, and all the better for it. The Duke Dumont remix is also brilliant.
6. Daft Punk - Get Lucky (Feat. Pharrell Williams)
Like many others I’m sure, I’m either going to love this even more by the end of the year or its ubiquity will have chipped away at all my affection for it. For now though, it’s a hell of a ride, isn’t it?
15. Rudimental - Waiting All Night (Feat. Ella Eyre)
The irony of “Waiting All Night” being entirely rudimentary for Rudimental only three singles into their career is perhaps a little bit of a problem, but there’s something about that’s just completely irresistible. I think it’s the barely contained desperation in Ella Eyre’s voice in the verses, before that rush of passion in the chorus that’s like striking the chains of a trapped beast. Like Rudimental’s best tracks so far, it’s the emotion conveyed that leaves the lasting impression here.
14. The Knife - Full Of Fire
Simply put, one of the year’s most terrifying tracks. The only reason it’s here is because I was scared what would happen if I didn’t put it in here somewhere. Karin’s voice combines with a truly spiky, savage production that continuously opens the trap door beneath your feet over nine minutes, revealing a deeper level of horror each time.
13. M83 - Oblivion (Feat. Susanne Sundfør)
Trust Anthony Gonzalez to be one of the few people to actually make a song that lives up to an epic title like “Oblivion”. Of course, some credit needs to go to Susanne Sundfør, who transforms the chorus into a tidal wave of music, her voice crashing down on the shore of your ears and somehow dwarfing the horns and drums and strings below her. She tames what could easily be an overwhelming production into something suitably graceful and awesome in the ancient sense of the world.
12. Jessie Ware - Imagine It Was Us
When I saw Jessie Ware live earlier this year, this was the track that turned the venue into a proper disco. The way her voice floats between icy detachment and achy longing is secondary only to Julio Bashmore’s inspired production, which floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee on the chorus.
11. Bastille - Pompeii
Anthemic in every sense of the word. The recurring Gregorian chanting, the beautifully delivered bridge of “And the walls kept tumbling down in the city that we LOOOOOOOOOOOOOVED!!!” and every other bit of the song that uses the same melody. I’m shocked to see that this is one of the year’s biggest singles (Like, surprisingly, a lot of the tracks on this list. ABOUT TIME, UK.), but for once it’s a pleasant shock rather than a horrible one.