for the fourth year running, Stylus gives over its main article space for a week in January to Singles Jukebox coordinator William B. Swygart to talk to you, the reader, about some of his favourite records from the past year: the first part goes up today, with the second coming tomorrow. There’s no particularly preferential ordering to the piece as such, it’s just a list of things that he encountered while compiling the Jukebox lists for the past year that struck a particular chord with him. Where possible, he’s tried to restrict it to things that he thinks he has something to say about; if, at any point, it seems like that’s not the case, just be grateful you didn’t have to read his thoughts on “Tell Me When To Go”…

(The Singles Jukebox will return on January 23rd)



Miranda
Don


Were we to take one song as encapsulating the point at which the Jukebox first started coming into its own, it’d probably be this. I’d sent out an email to people asking for them to send me suggestions of stuff to cover at the start of the year, since I had little idea of what was going on in the music world outside Britain, and Mike Powell responded by sending me the video for this, which he had apparently been hallucinating to in Mexico, or something along those lines. I then became very excited indeed.

“Don”’s strength is in how light it sounds—if there’s any bass on the song, it’s hardly worth mentioning. The guitar sounds completely isolated, without any weight to it at all. All around it is a set of the most affordable sounding electronics imaginable, blipping away reassuringly, while the male and female voices chatter along in Spanish. It all feels like some kind of wonderfully cozy dream…

… and, then, there’s that video. If you have not seen that video, you really ought to see that video. I’m not sure why, but that bit with the bedpans, combined with the escalating backing vocals, is somehow just perfect...
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Guillemots
We’re Here


Why don’t I love you, Fyfe Dangerfield? Why does the drum & bass bit in “Made Up Love Song #43” (marks already off for that title) make me think of golf highlights? And that whole “poe-urgh-tree in an empty Coke can” thing, why is that making me think of Wes Bentley in American Beauty and, as a result, making me bury my face in my hands? Why can’t I love you?

“We’re Here” suggests that I can. As a lyricist, you seem insubstantial, all surface gestures and thoughts not followed through. “Free to run and cry, and nothing is worth it without a fight”—your words come too easy. Your arrangements are something else. There’s too much to absorb in just the opening minute of this, so many sounds—oh, those lyrics are simple, but by gosh this song is anything but! An incredible dream, riddled with infinite shades of blue, and all so utterly vague.

Maybe that’s the point—Dangerfield himself hasn’t figured out what he means either. It’s this vagueness that gives the song its third dimension. It can’t be a radio ballad, it can’t be just “guitar music,” because that needs A Target. Things don’t happen for a reason in this song, they crop up as individual entities within the composition, almost independent of it; were this song not to exist, those parts still would.

“We’re Here” is more like a painting than a song, it’s the self-contained capturing of a scene, a sensory evocation whose lack of one specific purpose doesn’t diminish the overwhelming necessity of its existence. The moment is too engrossing to have a message, the colors too spectacular to see. It’s almost an out-of-body experience, the self and the outside gets obliterated by the power of existence. You know what I mean? I was too busy being irritated by his beard to notice.
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End of Fashion
The Game


Australian mainstream pop-punk is probably one of the most consistently shit genres in the world (I’ve heard two singles by Eskimo Joe, so don’t question my authority on this matter), but I am very, very tempted to call this instance of it perfect, because I can’t think of anything that it does wrong, or anything I’d want changed. It does nothing new or unexpected, but in its generic perfection there lies an incredible thrill. The guitars go THRGGUGGGUGGUGGUGG in this indescribably pleasing way. The feller’s scream isn’t particularly great, but he knows what to do with it, i.e. whisper “one, two, three” and then howl “FOURRRRRRRRRRR!” It starts and stops in all the right places. It briefly stops thrashing to have an excursion with a Casio keyboard. It is about absolutely nothing at all, which is good, because that means that the various high spots can be shunted into place with minimal fuss, and the feller can rattle off lines like “All my friends are cold in their gray-eeves!” in just as much of a Screaming Lord Sutch-esque manner as he deems necessary. I might be treading on his emotions here, but somehow I doubt it.
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Linda Bengtzing
Jag Ljuger Så Bra


Swedish pop is often condemned for its conservatism. That’s certainly true of “Jag Ljuger Så Bra,” but in a different way to how you might think—Linda’s refusal to take risks consists of a kind of carpet-bombing approach to her vocals, with any attempts at subtlety or variety of tone removed with the lead piping in the conservatory. The Swedish language is transformed into musical napalm, as unfamiliar syllables smash the listener’s face into the kerb over and over again. There may be a backing track, it may sound like Abba, but, when pitched against the non-stop onslaught of Our Linda, it becomes something of a secondary issue. It’s surprisingly easy to love, all things considered.
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Scooter
Apache Rocks the Bottom!


Is there anything the Shadows can’t do? Scooter merrily pilfer the guitars from “Apache,” set reverb to “full,” turn on the bosh, and then unleash Sheffield Dave to rattle off some of his choicest bragging ever. “Be careful to get what you like! Otherwise, you will be forced to like what you get!” “My mouth is gonna gun you down!” “I’m blowing up big, while you’re still on the bottom of the charts, like a twig—yeeeeah!“I’M ICE!” Got little love outside their fanbase, which makes one wonder—why isn’t their fanbase bigger? Yeah, the formula’s simple, but it works like little else.
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Justin Timberlake ft. T.I. and Timbaland
My Love


Would you mind awfully if Justin fell in love with you? He's heard he's quite good, apparently. Not his opinion, of course, that's just what they tell him. “My Love”'s chief achievement is to take this not entirely attractive proposition and make it sound just wonderful. Justin Timberlake is converted into the most romantic thing in the world, by virtue of Timbaland making the synths get all echoey and layered and stuff. He becomes a kind of dream factory, in a dreadfully nice waistcoat, cooing wondrous visions of how lovely you and him will be together.

I am having to try and work at liking this, yes. I just find Timberlake's personality a bit... repellent. This whole idea of his stuff in some way being the future of pop—he comes off like a pretentious squit, y'know? It feels like he's trying a bit hard to look like he's not trying that hard. And yet I do like this—love it, even—because there's a certain kind of surrealism to it, even though Timbaland's pulled the echoey synth thing with both Nelly Furtado and Omarion as well. It really does feel a bit otherworldly. I know I've heard this sort of thing before—Darren Hayes' The Tension and the Spark springs immediately to mind—but something about this just... clicks.
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The Spinto Band
Oh Mandy


A mandolin gets very, very excited about the coming of a UFO, and infectiousness abounds. There’s a man singing a lot of high notes, too, which helps.
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K-Sis
Beijos, Blues e Poesia


There’s a lot of love in this year’s list, certainly. Nowhere does it ache as much as here. I can only recognize the one phrase here, but it’s the only one I need—“Baby, I love you.” It’s sung with such distance that it becomes heartbreaking—maybe it’s the language barrier, but they don’t seem sure what they mean by it. Can their intended audience hear them? You can’t tell. They wander distracted, like hungry ghosts. The backing is gradually escalating throughout the song, but that means nothing to them. Struck lifeless by love, they wander through the song, with nothing more than that one statement—“Baby, I love you”—to provide them with any clues.
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Sharam
P.A.T.T. (Party All The Time)


Joy of repetition? I’ll give you joy of repetition. Taking just the one line and looping it over and over again, “P.A.T.T.” uses it as a springboard for an ever-escalating whizz and whirr of vintage synth action, pounding house, and handclaps. One could argue it does little more than that, but then one could also argue it doesn’t need to; peaks and troughs are rationed out to perfection, even if they are the same ones, and the hook stays strong for the whole duration of the song, so that ending on a tiny synth-clap feels like a massive letdown. Perhaps that’s why it did badly in the Jukebox: had we used the 10-minute version rather than the radio edit, it would have run away with the honors. Possibly.
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Najoua Belyzel
Gabriel / Je Ferme Les Yeux


There's diva-house, and then there's what Najoua Belyzel does, where every other syllable becomes a death in the family. Both “Gabriel” and “Je Ferme Les Yeux” are hyper-tense slices of solid BANG, but though the former was far and away the bigger hit, it's the latter that's the standout, if only for the section where Najoua's "uh-oh-ah-eh-oh-eh" multiplies and transforms into the beat itself, each syllable ticking round like a second hand, as the song blossoms out and a synth quietly seethes. It's tempting to call them emotional rollercoasters, except the emotions Najoua goes through only really range from “tense” to “agony” and back, usually in the space of about thirty seconds; she's thoroughly captivating regardless, expressing herself so liberally that singing along is pretty much compulsory.
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Bersuit Vergarabat
Sencillamente / Esperando El Impacto


Technicolor pastel-shaded Argentine waltzes. There’s something very gaudy about them, but at the same time deeply sensual. Maybe it’s that tempo, the way it very much takes its own time to sway about the floor, and absolutely refuses to be hurried along. “Sencillamente” is particularly good for this, a very slow but deliberate act of love-making, electric guitar notes picked and wobbled individually, with lead Bersuit getting Italian waiter-style backing vocal assistance when necessary, just so things don’t get too heavy. “Esperando El Impacto” didn’t make it into the Jukebox because its brush-strokes are perhaps a touch too broad for the panel’s palate—it certainly lays on the steel guitar a bit thick—but its predecessor’s tender, loving approach to waltzing is retained, and is none the worse for it.
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Snook
Snook, Svett och Tårar


More Swedes, this time complaining, in Swedish, about how they never gets taken seriously because they rap in Swedish. Now, take a second to contemplate just how crap that should be, because the reality is about a million miles away from that. The continual stop-start nature of the Swedish tongue, with its repeated hard sounds, is suddenly turned into a massive, massive plus atop the stuttering brass-based beat of a lifetime that the boys pulled out of god-knows-where. There’s a piano line that sounds like the keys are mounted on pogo-stick springs; a handclap rhythm that sounds like some 1930’s Chicago mobsters doing Riverdance, in the snow, on a hill; and those fantastic brass instruments, boozily swaggering and parping about the place. Breaking it down elementally is perhaps a futile exercise, but put altogether it’s basically an awful lot of fun.
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Camera Obscura
Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken


I could and should write about the other stuff on the album, but it’d be forced—besides, there’s all kinds of other columns on this site where people can talk about that, and I hope they do. Camera Obscura still get too much tarring by association—with Belle & Sebastian, with “twee,” with Tracyanne Campbell having a voice that’s a bit flat—and they deserve better.

The thing with Camera Obscura is their songs all seem to be about hating being twee, about hating having limitations hanging over your head all the time, about love always ending in tragedy, except of course for Marge and Homer. “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken” is Tracyanne Campbell struggling with the fact that all her favorite records tell her that love will inevitably lead to heartbreak and misery, that it never lasts, that’s it’s a deceiver—and yet…

The disparity between Tracyanne confronting her naivete—“I’m ready to be heartbroken, cos I can’t see further than my own nose at this moment”—and the backing music seems key. Is she cursing herself for being an idiot, for believing it could have been different, or is she cursing herself for thinking that it couldn’t be? The backing is giddy and garish, a blur of Brill strings, trumpets, and picked guitars, and it’s indie disco as fuck, singalong, dance along—it certainly doesn’t feel like a holiday in someone’s misery as much as a holiday from it, a respite—the bravery here is that which is required to crack your own shell and chance your arm.
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Bodies Without Organs
Temple of Love / We Could Be Heroes / Will My Arms Be Strong Enough?


No debate about Swedish pop perfectionism can ever really be complete without this lot. BWO’s Alexander Bard seems obsessed with pop songs as being romantic gestures of immaculate conception, to the extent that one finds it difficult to know if he’s ever really being serious or not. As a result, they’re sometimes very difficult to take in any dosage; “We Could Be Heroes” and “Will My Arms Be Strong Enough?”, as their titles suggest, sound like Biblical epics, with synthetic strings hyper-tuned and tweaked for maximum grandiosity. Martin Rolinski’s vocals rarely appear in untreated form, making the music sometimes feel like a science experiment, an airbrushed, genetically modified attempt at finding the hidden formula that pushes the precise combination of the listener’s emotional buttons.

For that reason, BWO can feel cynical and shallow; you know you’re being manipulated, but you’re never sure to what ends. They’re bloody good at the manipulation, though—despite their over-rehearsed airs, “WCBH” and “WMABSE?” are, somehow, genuinely affecting songs—but one can never really escape this feeling that love is being treated as some kind of aesthetic concept. But, even if that is the case, their desire to somehow attain “love” becomes all the more pressing and burning, an obsessive quest to firmly nail down this thing that unlocks the doors to happiness. Perhaps it’s the gnawing, biting, perfectionist twat inside me that this appeals to. Perhaps it’s the obsessive romantic. Either way, they do something to me, and I hope it’s something good.
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Amadou & Mariam
Coulibaly


Malian guitar freakout that wound up at the top of my actual end-year list for the site’s end-year singles article. My reasoning for this—namely “Fucking hell, that guitar!”—was a bit flimsy, and yet simultaneously totally justified. Because—that fucking guitar! It’s huge! “Coulibaly” is a full-on boneshaker of a ride across mountains, plains, and infinite amounts of big, jaggy rocks, with Am & Ma’am as the mad scientists at the wheel of it all. It leaps and bounds across the never-ending horizon for what feels like forever—and a tiny bit beyond as well.
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Pascal Obispo ft. Melissa Mars
1980


French crooner Obispo writes a song about how the future seemed much more exciting in the 1980’s, but—ah-ha!—it still can be! No, you’d never take him to be from the same country as Bob Sinclar, would you? Better still, he then decides the best way to convey the feeling of the 1980’s is to base the whole song around a saxophone hook—and somehow, he pulls it off. Well, I say somehow, it’s mainly the fact that Pascal appears to have one hell of an ear for a saxophone hook—it’s a big, bouncy cartoon of a thing, purpose built for stomping about like a massive eejit to. So good, in fact, that pretty much all of the last two minutes of the song is given over to it, as Pascal’s assorted session musician chums (all wearing sunglasses and dancing inside a Rubik’s cube, naturally) take turns to flirt with it. French with a capital Frorrrrnch, then.
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Evanescence
Call Me When You’re Sober


Vaguely infantile cod-poetic rage-unleashing rendered brilliant by how far out of proportion it all gets blown—meet the new Evanescence, pretty much identical to the old Evanescence.
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The Futureheads
Skip to the End


Ah. Never did get round to getting a proper copy of the album, which is something of a major oversight on my part; the leaked version wasn’t exactly bad, but rather underwhelming. That the group that seemed so exciting a couple of years ago were already down to doing stuff like “Favours for Favours” was a bit worrying; the harmonies were almost starting to feel rote, and the not-especially-brilliant lyrics were getting pushed to the forefront. There were still moments of brilliance, though, and luckily enough the first single was definitely one of them. The secret weapon? Spoons, or at least something that sounded like spoons. Amid the intermittent spots of guitar, it was the spoons that stepped in to rattle about and keep the song ticking along, while Barry Hyde snagged his paranoid, irritable vowels all over the place to their usual charming effect. Definitely going to get the proper album, though, if only because I badly need a proper version of “Cope.”
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Maria Daniela Y Su Sonido Lasser
Miedo


The super-cheap thrills that a big, rubbery synthesiser and a drum machine that sounds like it’s lain unused in a shed for the past decade can bring, eh? “Miedo” takes its formula and somehow makes it stretch over nearly five minutes of synth squelching, occasionally tossing in the odd thing to keep your attention from waning, while Maria Daniela twitters in her sing-song rhythm over the top that she “necessito una aspirin-ahhh.” In other words, I love this song, but I get hopelessly, hopelessly lost when I try to rationalize why exactly that might be. The fact that the video features some zombie flashers chasing a bicycle, causing it to crash and burst into flames, may have something to do with it, though.
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The Dixie Chicks
Not Ready to Make Nice


This isn’t about right and left, this isn’t about red states and blue states. Saying you’re ashamed to be from the same state as the American president—any American president—on stage in London shouldn’t be a great political statement. The Dixie Chicks couldn’t have dreamt of what would happen next, and that’s why “Not Ready to Make Nice” is such a stunning rock song. Natalie Maines’ fury destroys her scansion but you don’t notice—“How in the world can the words that I said / Send somebody so over the edge that they’d write me a letter / Saying that I’d better / Shut up and sing or my life will be over?” It’s a savage attack on corporation thinking of all kinds, even if the Chicks themselves have become filed into a kind of us-vs.-them situation as a result—a cautionary tale of what happens when everything gets filed into just two boxes, delivered with astonishingly focused force, fury, and anguish.
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T.I.
What You Know


Sometimes it is a very nice thing indeed when a song makes you feel like you’re about 73 feet tall, though “What You Know” makes that feel like a thoroughly conservative estimate. Fuck on a stick, but that synth-harpsichord (it may not be, but let me have this illusion) is just huge, no? Every time it comes on, everything fucking turns Miami Vice. Walking up the hill to go to a seminar on Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Weighing whether or not the 2 for 1 on vinaigrette at Morrison’s is a good idea. Everything.

And the genius is that never, ever does it sound like an antithetical juxtaposition—no matter what is happening, “What You Know” does not sound silly, because it is too awesome, too indisputable to do so. T.I. sounds like filth, the feller so obviously on top that he doesn’t really need to tell you about it, but soddit, he’s going to anyway. For fun. Yes, he’s just spent half a verse rhyming “dog” with “dog.” That’s the point. He just can, can’t he? So much modern brag-rap just makes the rapper sound a bit pathetic, but T.I. really does rise right above. The kind of song that ambulances pull over to let through.
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Midlake
Roscoe


Seemingly at the forefront of the new wave of American rock for Uncut readers, Midlake’s lyrics hanker after a peculiar kind of rusticity—“When I was a child I wondered what if my name had been changed to something more productive, like Roscoe”—that I don’t really feel that comfortable with, like it’s accessorising working-class life in some way. It’s only transitory discomfort, though, because the song itself is pure murk. I dunno what it’s about, if anything, but it feels like walking home through woods at midnight, never quite sure if something’s lurking around the corner. The lyrics then become like a nursery rhyme, babbled to keep yourself company as the cold sweeps in. You can never settle, because the night won’t let you.
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Margaret Berger
Samantha / Will You Remember Me Tomorrow?


Margaret Berger is the new queen of the disco. “Samantha” throbs and thumps while she seduces. “Lift your head up higher girl, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, you need to be yourself.” You are tempted to consider whether or not this is an artform. You start to worry that your friends will write her off on grounds of blankness, another sheen-faced girl from the kind of country where people drive SAABs and smile too much. You can’t be bothered with that, because the pulse is too strong. Songs about painful break-ups can rarely have been this good to dance to, you realize. It’s sleek, it’s shiny, but cold? No chance.

And then there’s “Will You Remember Me Tomorrow?”, the kind of song that requires constant pinching of yourself to make sure it actually exists. The synths sound like they’re being programmed by Chip & Dale. “Hold me close, and don’t let go till we see the sunrise… will you remember me tomorrow?” This could practically be Connie Francis. And then the chorus—there’s this kind of electronic wedding bell effect, like she’s bloody ABBA or something. It’s so completely naïve, a song that’s retro to such an extent that you really can’t figure out quite how you’re meant to be taking it. Forgive me, there’s no other way of putting this—it’s girly. It’s a big, soppy, girly disco song, and it’s so proud of it that, well, you agree with it. Whatever it is it’s saying. Look, electro-bells! Magic.
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The Rogers Sisters
Why Won’t You?


The Sisters at their angriest and most straightforward. As with much of this list, you’ll kind of know exactly what you’re getting at the door. As with all of this list, that shouldn’t put you off. Yes, garagerockindiewhathaveyou from New York, but set about with such gusto and sharpness that the clichés get blown all the way away.
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Muse
Knights Of Cydonia


Rock for rock’s sake, which is where the beauty lies. “Knights of Cydonia” is gleeful childhood plundering gone staggeringly right, from the tips of its two-and-a-half minute intro, which sees aliens landing, mounting horses and channelling Dick Dale (quite possibly on ice), all the way through the merciless chug running through the song, and peaking when it stops for the band to yowl “No one’s gonna taaaake meee aliiiive!”

For once, a British rock band forgot about being sensible or silly, and instead decided to thrill themselves.
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Outkast
Morris Brown


So, did they ever get round to deciding whether or not this was the lead single off Idlewild or not? Cos in the UK, all we seemed to get was bloody “Idlewild Blue,” which, to be frank, has fuck all on this. Maybe it was just too weird for us, so we got the one with the guitar. Enh. Anyway, “Morris Brown”’s failure to be a hit of any particular size anywhere is really quite upsetting, because it’s just that much bloody fun. Perhaps it was just soundtracking the wrong film—if they were to re-release Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with this as the theme tune, things would be so different.
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Nadiya
Tous Ces Mots / Roc


It’s not clever, especially, but it’s very, very big. “Tous Ces Mots” often gets pulled up for basically ripping off the beat from “In Da Club,” but that would be to ignore that, by dragging said beat through the Europop hedge, it actually becomes even nastier; the thug claps butt heads with some big, ugly synths, a chugging guitar loop that sounds like it’s been edited with a machete, and one-two cymbal smashes so unsubtle that they sound like samples from Rocky IV. Nadiya then comes to nasty up the picture even more by snarling up the French language, so much so that even people who know that “Tous ces mots et tous ces gestes” just means “all these words and all these gestures” start treating her delivery of it like the most scalding of put-downs. By comparison, Smartzee’s guest verse in the middle sounds like it was recorded in the shower without him noticing.

And then there’s “Roc.” It mainly consists of Nadiya singing about unity and stuff over some sine-waves and slow electronic drum thumps, but it gets broken up by a set of massive guitar chords that slam into each other from all directions, each hitting just before the previous one finishes. These are songs that do not give you any kind of breathing room, jump-cutting from one chunk of noise to the next with no space allowed for a smooth transition—ugly, brutal, and exhilarating.
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Clutch
Burning Beard


Came in second behind Amadou & Mariam on my end-year singles ballot, which makes me wonder if I wasn’t ranking stuff solely based on how much I approved of the guitar riff (I think Muse may have been third). Soddit, there’s worse systems, and this is pretty bloody mighty besides. A churning, chopping blast of righteous declamation from some men with really bloody impressive beards. The holy ghost gets invoked and briefly impersonated. Cows get tipped in fields elysian. I suspect they don’t like President Bush much—“Everyday! I wake up! Cranes fly in to terrorize me!” And the riffs just keep a-rumbling and stabbing onward, hefty but with devastating pace. It makes me feel like I really missed something else this year, that I just didn’t get anywhere near enough heaviness, and what I did get was, with the odd exception, utter cobblers—still, that’s probably what happens when you expect the phrase “US Modern Rock Chart” to mean anything. IDIOT …
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Klee
Die Stadt


From my window, I have a fantastic view over Leeds. I’m on a hill, and from the back of the house the city stretches almost as far as the eye can see. In the daytime you squint for the horizon; in the night, you gaze out at the mass of streetlamps. Yorkshire’s brilliant for that; motorways ride over hills, and you can see whole cities in the bowl below. “Die Stadt” is perfect for that sensation, the kind of song that somehow fully enables you to appreciate just how huge the world is, and that your role is one of billions of passengers sat atop it. It’s German indie of a particularly contemplative kind, a woman reminiscing wistfully over a constant, steady pulse of strumming and drums. The peaks aren’t too high, the troughs seem hardly there at all. It’s a passive sensation in the same sense that stargazing is; sometimes, I just want to stop taking everything for granted for a moment or twelve, and admire it all.
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Oh No Ono
Keeping Warm in Cold Country


Indecently psychotic Danish indie-pop bullet. Remember every record that’s been called angular in the past three or four years? This is them, except faster, shorter, and with a whole heap of hairpin bends thrown in for good measure. Everything bolts along with maximum urgency right from the off like it’s being fired from an electrical socket. The guitars buzz about with their one riff like they’ve not had any sleep in the past fortnight. Synths slam in and out of view at will. The drummer isn’t required to do much beyond keep time, which he does, till about a minute in when he’s joined by this sort of electric popcorn noise going twice as fast as he is. Trying to come up with decent analogies for it is hard—brain in a pinball machine? Hornets in a ping-pong ball?
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Augie March
One Crowded Hour


“If love is a bolt from the blue, then what is a bolt but a glorified screw?” Yep, I remember when I lost my mind, and Augie are still losing theirs. “One Crowded Hour” takes attraction and turns it into terror, the kind of nervous sensation that sets the whole body to crumbling, as your fingers start tapping the glass till they jangle. Furtive glances are made with increasing uncertainty and decreasing furtiveness. Teeter, totter, etc. The song gets faster and more unhinged as it goes on, as the shields get lowered further and further in spite of themselves. Love is, figuratively, all over the place, a spur and a burden at once. This is the point where I should be saying it’s better than Snow Patrol. Which it is.

Beyond that, though, it’s hyper-nervous-tension-balladry of the most immensely moving kind, as Glenn Richards spills out all over the place, the booze-sodden cynic transforming into the guileless romantic who “thought [he] had found [his] golden September in the middle of that purple June, but one crowded hour would lead to [his] wreck and ruin.” It feels wrong ending that with a full stop, it’s a deeply unsatisfactory piece of punctuation for this song; it’s too clean, too controlled, and there’s almost no emotion to it. All kinds of emotions boil frantically and urgently over during “One Crowded Hour,” both yours and theirs. It demands that you swing wildly round with it on this figurative dancefloor, as the organ loses time and the bodies heave all around till no-one can really tell what’s going on anymore, the bolt from the blue’s aftermath leaving everyone headless.
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Rip Slyme
Hot Chocolate


Japanese hip-hop scamps strike pay dirt with big, big drums and a song that seems to make the description “snazzy” actually sound like its own, definite category. This is music to step to with synchronized knobby knees, like some kind of crazed fusion of Christopher Walken and Barry Hyde. Sometimes their six-boy chatter comes off a bit school assembly-ish (“and now, Class 4C are going to perform a rap about the book James & The Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl”), but here it runs perfectly, the constant gabble hotfooting it over the big shoulder shuffle.
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Cassie
Me & U


“You could have it all, but how much do you want it?” Spine-chilling love reduced to “Yes” or “No”—a black and white exchange with nothing in between. “I promise you’ll like it (I swear!)” You wonder if she even knows what “it” is. Hell, do you? Again, as with BWO, “love” is something without a definition beyond a synonym for “good”; unlike BWO, Cassie doesn’t try to define it beyond that. The only way she can show you her love is with sex. Cliches fall from her lips and thud onto the floor. “And now it’s me and you.” It doesn’t get much colder than that.
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Sean Paul
Temperature


This got to #1 in the US, y’know? As, admittedly, did a lot of other things, but, with the exception of Taylor Hicks, you’d probably be able to remember most of them. Anyway, Sean-eh remains just as engaging as he’s ever been, the beat consists of someone thumping a barrel quite hard, he’s got the right tactics to turn you on, etc. Plenty good, basically.
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Marit Larsen
Under the Surface


“Don’t Save Me” is the sound of brilliant liberation, Marit dressing down the “it’s not you, it’s me” brigade amid handclaps and fanfares—“Don’t save me, I’ll save you the hassle… this is us ending.” Breaking up becomes a joyous occasion, love’s burden merrily lost, Marit singing it with a fucking huge grin on her face and a spring in her step as the conventions of modern love suddenly no longer apply to her, and she can be herself again—“Don’t save me. Don’t you dare.” You don’t come, she ain’t gon’ die.

That’s Under The Surface’s most appealing asset, her, herself, a Real Live Human Being bursting clean out of the conventions, refusing to be talked down to, to be used or patronized. “Only a Fool” sees her repelling her ex’s advances—“You say that I need to consider this—yours was the face that I couldn’t resist… yours was the choice to stay away from her… these were the times I was waiting at home…” It’s a brilliantly even-handed retelling of the slow disintegration of a relationship, never a flat, vengeful put-down of the man, but a calm, reasoned letting-down of him instead. Then there’s “Come Closer”’s chiding of an overly coy suitor—“What is wrong with both feet on this side of the door?” It’s an overt rejection of the twee, not a playing up to it.

Sure, there’s banjos and strings aplenty on the album, but why the hell not? That’s the brilliant thing—Under The Surface might have lots of familiar sounds, but it’s never less than itself. It plays the game straight, but never on anything less than its own terms, and that’s the beauty of Marit too. She’s not just a nice voice, she’s a determinedly individual one too, never content to go the easy route, but always taking her own path, fully investing herself into the music, making herself the absolute core component of everything about it—perfectionist? Maybe, but, if so, it’s perfection demanded of herself, and no one else.
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Marisa Monte
Vilarejo


Marisa makes Portuguese sound like the most beautiful language on earth. You start ranking the alphabet in order of how beautiful she makes each letter sound—the letter U feels like pushing gently into soft clay, and the letter S becomes a delicious burring noise, sort of a “szsch” sound, like yours or my letter S but with about ten times the flavor. Perhaps the culinary experience is the best way to explain this, because it’s so full of delicacy, light touches that feel so, so sweet on the ear, with sounds to tickle and delight every part. I’m listening to it for about the fiftieth time right now, and I think there may well be a harp in there somewhere, down under the slow, languid trumpets, ultra-soft guitars, and the vocals themselves layered in out of each other. There were many, many beautiful songs this year, but there was nothing else that was as sumptuous as this.
[YOUTUBE]
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Marco Borsato
Rood


“Rood” is maximalist power balladry melodrama triumphal march brilliance. In Dutch, admittedly, but never mind. The really brilliant thing is just how daring it is. It opens with Marco Borsato, a popular but apparently mediocre Dutch crooner (he followed this with a duet with Lucie Silvas, so I can believe that), alone with a piano, and some strings playing very, very slowly. He’s sounding a bit lachrymose. Actually, worse than that, he’s sounding like Johnny Hallyday. Until he turns round: “Aan mee!”

At which point the strings suddenly go all “Eloise” (Barry Ryan version) and begin whirling up like the approach to Castle Dracula. Then Marco quivers quietly for a bit, until out of nowhere—KORG! Or Roland. I don’t know the actual make, but it’s some full-on trance DJ grinning like a berk while Marco bursts into life: “Vandaag is rood!” And the beat kicks in, and Marco’s proper reborn, and everything charges along, and you don’t know what he’s singing about but by god it’s good, he sings the chorus, and then…

Aaron Fucking Copland comes in! Yes, kids, it’s Marco’s big trancey hoedown and he’s swinging off the arm of every person in the building! You’ve stopped keeping track, you just want to know where the man’s going to go next, and as it turns out he’s going to stop the hoedown and whip out a fucking cathedral organ. Just for a bit, cos it’s a bridge, and here comes the big fuck off trance again, and this is more than one twat with a keyboard, it’s a thousand of the bastards, and here’s the strings as well! What does the translated lyrics site say?
Pluk the day, because it can be zometeen the last
Today red love between you and me is simply
Today resists red for the love between you and me
And I guessed that, somehow. Not the red bit, but the “it can be zometeen the last” part. “Rood” is all about the moment and stuffing just as much as you can into it, because truly, my friends—there is no tomorrow!
[YOUTUBE]
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The Pipettes
Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me


“Well I like to hip-haahp!” And all of a sudden, a million minds realized exactly what was wrong with this country. The Pipettes seem to be founded on the idea of Knowing Better, a throwback to the ideal, puritanical girl-group template so beloved of, well, everyone, no? Girl-groups as things to be Done Properly—they must have attitude, style, disposability, choruses, harmonies, bitchiness, and fingerclicks. They must be A Bit Dirty, but never quite allowed to demonstrate that publicly.

And that’s the idea they’re seen as reinforcing. Fun-not-fun. Pop-not-pop. Girl-group as conceptualized by, say, John Harris, perhaps. Bringing Properness back to pop, and too perfect, too studied by half. It can’t be good pop. It’s too bloody boring to be good pop, isn’t it? THEORY. It’s indie kids, isn’t it, THEY’RE the fucking problem! They just have to bloody know better, don’t they? Cuntwit Brighton fringe-flick Mighty Boosh Converse “obviously ripping off Josef K” DEFINITELY NOTHING LIKE THEM… breathe out…

And so The Pipettes become everybody’s punching bag. Genre exercise, pseudo-hipster fad, pop for pop-haters, the straw man’s girl-group of choice—it becomes impossible to hear them without some form of baggage attached. They can’t be “appreciated” without. The self-loathing of the British indie milieu, conveniently focused into one massive zit.

It becomes of secondary importance that “Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me” is fantastic. Lyrics that could well have been made up on the spot (“I’m going out to chase some other guy / Who I might like”), an utterly fantastic organ rip to end each verse, “But you don’t know it!” For once, they don’t sound like they’re putting anything on. It’s perky but not forcibly so, light but tight but messy all at once, chorus not so much sung as chewed. That last little organ flourish is a perfect cocking of the snook. And so the problems begin, all over again.
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Silvia Night
Congratulations


A fictional character used for satirical purposes is nothing new, but unlike her British counterparts, Silvia doesn’t bother with subtlety. Iceland’s Eurovision campaign consisted of her dissing the Dutch entry to their faces on live television, responding to direction from the Eurovision production staff by calling them “fucking amateurs,” leaving the stage with a cry of “fuck you, you fucking retards,” planting a fake journalist in her press conference so that she could have them ejected for looking her in the eyes, and, after being eliminated in the semi-final, this.

Oh, and the song itself. Eurovision songs don’t, as rule, tend to proclaim: “The vote is in—I fucking win! Too bad for all the others!” They do not feature telephone calls from God, which the singer is too busy saving the world to take. They do not announce that people who mess with the singer will be “D.E.A.D.” “Congratulations,” however, did. Europe chose Brian Kennedy instead. Perhaps it’s for the best.
[YOUTUBE]
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LT United
We Are The Winners


It definitely didn’t seem like it at the time, but this might have been one of the highlights of Eurovision 2006. Lithuania had previously spent their entire Eurovision existence taking the contest very seriously but never getting the rub, with their best previous result coming when Skamp came in 13th in 2001. Given that Eastern European block voting is continually being decried for ruining the contest as a competition, one can see how this might have been a bit galling for the red, yellow, and greens.

So this was the year that they snapped. Six of the biggest names in Lithuanian pop, all of whom appear to be middle-aged men, banded together to create the super-entry that would propel Lithuania into the contest’s upper echelons for the first time. This super-entry consisted of them shouting “We are the winners of Eurovision! WE ARE! WE ARE!” A lot. There was also a guitar solo, during which a fat, bald man with glasses wobbled. And, well, it worked—Lithuania finished 6th overall, ensuring they qualified for the final of the competition for the first time in their history.

Certainly, it’s immature, rude, and disrespectful. It also isn’t funny after more than a couple of listens. But, at its heart, there’s something admirable about its pure cheek. Whether taken as two fingers at the competition or an ironic comment on the country’s place in the European pop world, there’s a refreshingly cathartic effect to it. Obligatory Vladimir Romanov reference here, obviously.
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Cheb Mami & Diam’s
Non C’Sera Non


Perhaps Diam’s is laying it on a bit thick with how deep she makes her voice go, but the sheer kinetic energy within this song is a wonder to behold. Cheb is a torrent of furious chatter and wails, as the surroundings rush along with incredible urgency on a rocket-powered ride through rai. I have no idea what it’s about, but I’m also not sure it matters.
[PURCHASE]

Lillix
Sweet Temptation


You kind of start worrying about yourself when you go looking on YouTube for a video by four Canadian girls, only to find the actual video comes about sixteenth on the list of results, behind fifteen videos that use the song to dub anime footage.

Oh, fuck you. “Sweet Temptation” takes The Kelly Clarkson Effect and kicks it clean into touch via supreme lean-and-mean-ness. The verses are taut like psychosis, the chorus explodes with the kind of slashing viciousness that makes people go all misty-eyed for the Shangri-Las. The lyrics suck as poetry, but as rabble-rousing death chants they’re startling, all three singers yelling “ONE! TWO! THREE! FOUR! GET YOUR FEET ON THE FLOOR!” with such ferocity that any worries that their mutterings about “the holl-owww” might be a bit, er, pointless just wither. This is a killing machine, kids, and it’s a fucking top-drawer one.
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The Blood Arm
Suspicious Character


I still can’t decide if they’re a bunch of posers or not, which is perhaps the enduring thing about this. The video certainly suggests that this is a group of young people not entirely averse to their own prettiness, and the singer’s preening yelp of “Everybody, come on!” at the start brings to mind too many drunken tossers in too many upwanked nightspots to mention. The ending of the song is also crap, disintegrating rather than building to anything. But apart from that there’s something very intriguing lurking beyond.

Maybe it’s just that I really am a sucker for a good bit of piano dumped in a rock song, but this is a very, very good bit of piano, humping and clumping, heaving and sweating atop the testosterone that yr man is trying so hard to exude. He’s kind of got an Alex Kapranos thing of hinting too hard at sexual deviance, like he wants to make it very, very clear that he’s hiding something in the hope of making himself seem interesting, but the way he slides across his lines is undeniably an attraction (or, more likely, a repulsion) of some kind. It just feels alive, somehow, or close to it.
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KateGoes
Heartbeat


Birmingham’s new knights of twee start channelling Joyce Grenfell. Essentially, what we have here is a series of “We Go Together”-style metaphors for friendship getting continuously stacked atop each other for four minutes, to increasingly nonsensical effect—“Breathe me in / Your snot will come out when I sneeze”—backed by a sedate piano, with occasional bits of mandolin and drum machine. It’s all sung with ultra-correct pronunciation, with a particularly delicious rolling of the “r” in “kangaroo,” and is scrumptious, yummy, and several other words to that effect. Try not to get too upset.
[MYSPACE]

Gnarls Barkley
Crazy


“Crazy”’s gone beyond a song now, it’s a phenomenon. Actually, maybe it wasn’t like this in the rest of the world—I can’t remember it topping any chart other than the UK one—perhaps it was just some summer hit there, filed next to “Hips Don’t Lie,” “London Bridge,” and whichever single Nelly Furtado had set about you with. But in the UK, it was number one for nine weeks, which was longer than anything since Wet Wet Wet’s version of “Love Is All Around” managed 15 weeks in 1994. Every song between then and now that you can think of, every single one of them—“Crazy” was bigger.

And maybe it’s that level of unanimity that’s the most amazing thing. Somehow, they tapped into something that the UK had been waiting for. Maybe the bassline (worked for “Feel Good, Inc.,” after all). Maybe the grandeur. Maybe that "Top Of The Pops" appearance—probably not, but it can’t have hurt.

Most likely, though, it’s the way that Cee-Lo asks if that makes him crazy. Britain is a country that “sees what you’re trying to do, there.” Celebrity reality TV makes us feel better about ourselves by dint of not being on it. Most of our attempts at comedy, satire, or social commentary are there to remind us that it’s someone else’s fault. Our inadequacies are dealt with through bullying, stereotyping, and ignoring people. Contrarianism and intelligence are confused as being the same thing. If you believe the hype, Britain is a nation of cliques of teenagers and old people.

And the crazy man is the man who is free of it, because Britain is a nation that thrives on its crazy people. It’s not the commodity of “lovable eccentricity,” but the genuine wonder of something brilliant coming from nowhere, something you would never have expected—the hero with the heart to lose their life out on the limb, no? “Crazy”’s a record free of “considerations,” it’s an expression of individual brilliance, a celebration of having the courage of one’s own convictions. It’s not bloody “I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker With Flowers in My Hair,” with its weak platitudes about how everything was better in the old days, because it doesn’t rely on the crutch that modern life is crap and therefore disagreeing with modern life is correct—it doesn’t deal in binaries, it doesn’t reduce life to a two-party contest. It’s not against anything, it’s all for itself. It’s the power of dreams in full effect, and not because it’s trying to sell you a fucking Honda. It’s not trying to get you on its side, it doesn’t have a fucking side. When Cee-Lo cries out “Maybe you’re crazy, just like me,” he’s got nothing against you. It’s a powerful song, because it realizes that, just because you don’t need anyone else, it doesn’t mean that you have to stop caring about them.

And because, suddenly, it felt like anything could happen.
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Infernal
From Paris to Berlin / Ten Miles / Self Control


For some reason, I found myself watching The Galaxy Chart on TMF the other week, and it had �Dangerous’ Dave Pearce proclaiming Infernal’s version of “Self Control” to be “an utter turd,” which was very dangerous of him. It was also a bit wrong. On the face of it, sure, Infernal look set to live out their days as another jobbing Eurohouse act—I think Ian Van Dahl are still putting out singles, for instance—but the three singles I heard by them this year were all at least a bit killer, and had a touch more to them than their projected career arc might suggest. “Ten Miles” is a filter-house ballad that’s at the very least the equal of DHT’s “Listen To Your Heart”, albeit with an even clunkier singer than Edmee; “Self Control”’s a top-drawer pop song, and our Danish chums do it no disservice; and as for “From Paris to Berlin,” it wound up being this year’s summer dance waste-laying machine, and thoroughly deserved to be, too. The key is that it’s just that bit slower than you think it is, and just a bit more clever than you give it credit for—the architecture’s a lot more minimal than you’d imagine, the beat far from generic and more than conversant with the records it’s deemed too common to keep company with. There’s nothing mindless or cynical about it, regardless of the repetitive nature of the lyrics; it’s a canny little pop song, destined never to quite get the credit deserves. Though obviously this didn’t really help matters.
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Johnny Boy
Fifteen Minutes


A year on from thrilling the world with “You Are the Generation That Bought More Shoes and You Get What You Deserve,” Johnny Boy brought out an album. In Sweden. A year later, and it’s still worming its way round the world, though it’s finally gotten released in their home country. It’s a good album, too, taking the Spector touches of their early singles and spreading them heavy across an album of addled, bitter, anti-consumerist pop, of which “Fifteen Minutes” is arguably the highest point. The two vocalists gob on modern life from a bridge: “See you running back and forth…tell me, what you gonna do? TELL ME WHAT YOU’RE GONNA DO!” Lights blaze, cameras flash and the world spins that much faster.
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Omarion
Entourage / Ice Box


“You’re my homie, my lover—and even my friend!” Ah, Omarion, you big old div. It’s this idiocy that makes “Entourage” work, though, as it makes his goofy, head-over-heels besottedness that much more believable. His mild misunderstanding of the strength of his love for his girl as being something extra-special because he is vastly more famous than her—“Sometimes you steal the whole spotlight!”—comes off weirdly charming.
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Kate Ryan
Je T’adore


And here’s the actual best song from Eurovision. A pre-tournament fan favorite, Belgium managed to shoot themselves in the foot by creating a dance routine that seemed to rely on Europe thinking a bunch of men waving orange light tubes in some way constituted a good idea. Which it didn’t. And thus, arguably the most perfect disco number in the competition for many a year got sunk in favor of painfully mediocre entries from Turkey and Armenia, along with the generally inexcusable Brian Kennedy ft. Brian Kennedy’s Eyebrows. A pity, really, cos on record “Je T’Adore” should have walked it—crisp, precise, paced, and poised to perfection. The Eurovision time limit trimmed all the fat from it, leaving a pure, exhilarating, and very Belgian kind of thrill.
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Morningwood
Nth Degree


Man, your country really does produce a load of sorta OK rock bands, doesn’t it? Many of which appear to be in this list. Hmm. Anyway, yes, one-hit wonder of the year, except I can’t remember whether this was actually a hit or not anywhere. I think it went top 20 in Holland.

But yes, one-hit wonder of the year, because:
- There is a big, big chorus exhorting listeners to “turn up the radio.”
- The production is radio rock as fuck, knocking all the guitars up as loud as they can go, dropping some kind of high-pitched not-quite-vocoder on the lead singer, making everything into the shiniest, most rounded plastic possible; every fiber of this song is straining to be a hit, with no regard for any other consequences.
- There is a big, big chorus enthusing about “heavy metal late show!”, all the while being fully aware that no one has used the phrase “heavy metal late show” possibly ever.
- One of the hooks (there are buckets of them) involves the singer repeatedly spelling out the band’s name, over and over and over again, not as a subliminal advertising tactic but because it’s just quite fun to do.
- The bit where she goes “ennabit HARDER!”
- Gnarls Barkley have had two top 10 hits in the UK, completely disqualifying them.
- Their career begins, middles, and ends in the space of this one song. It doesn’t matter what else they record, it all gets utterly outshone by this. The video and the repeated iteration of their name create a mythology for them, but a mythology which doesn’t really have anything behind it other than this absolute beast of a single, whose effectiveness could basically be summed up as “starts sunny, gets brighter, then brighter still, then has very big and loud guitar solo bit, then continues to get brighter till you wind up sick, dizzy, and blind at the end.”
- As pure sugar rushes go, this might well have been the biggest one of all.
- Give me a couple of paragraphs and I’ll probably be claiming that about something else instead.
Ooh, it’s good.
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Ciara
Promise


The extent to which Ciara can “really sing” is perhaps debatable, but the amount of character she can pull out of that breathy whisper of hers really is something to behold. And, to be fair, it’s difficult to imagine anyone other than her being able to handle a song like “Promise”—it’s a song that demands she give it a stab without having any expectations of what it can do for her. It’s a mess of desires and proclamations that can’t order themselves; they’re just floating out there, waiting to be propounded, and Ciara most certainly does that, every line sounding like the most exciting thing she’s ever heard—“You can gimme extra credit, baby, I’ll do morework! Call me mama, spoil you like a baby!” Then there’s that staircase sound that accompanies The Ceremonial Opening Of Ciara’s Heart, even though it’s been perfectly open, waiting to be explored, right from the opening note. A fascinating work, not just in sound but in spirit; it’s not often that giving is treated as the greatest pleasure one could possibly get.
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Delays
Valentine


It’s the grandest gesture of all. It’s a sudden explosion of emotion, the epic ballad no one could ever have dreamed Delays would have had in them; it’s an utterly necessary blast of pretension, a love song set in the midst of the New Orleans floods by a bunch of haircuts from Southampton; it’s death triumphing, momentarily, over love, only for love to come back and snatch triumph in the dying seconds; it’s an electronic rampage with perfect, perfect handclaps; it’s British indie suddenly discovering where its guts had been hidden; it’s the shaking off of the complexes that reduce music to soundtracking montages of Arsenal conceding from throw-ins; it’s a moment of perfect, blinding clarity, abandoning whatever fears were holding them back to create their superlative glory; it’s beautiful, brave, and so, so true. Sometimes, ambition can be the greatest thing to have.
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By: William B. Swygart
Published on: 2007-01-08
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