Spring sprang about a month ago, but it finally feels like it. My iPhone tells me that it’s going to be 75 and sunny tomorrow in New York. That’s crazy! People are going to be walking around butt-ass naked in response, and won’t that be fun to see? There’s nothing like a solid spring day to undo four bullshit months of shitty winter misery.
Dan Snaith's most recent album as Caribou, Our Love, spans genres from house to prog ballads, all with a pointed sense of warmth. It's among the year's very best releases. The Canadian producer/singer recently told me by phone that the album was intended to give back to those who'd strongly responded to his last Caribou album, 2010's Swim. Below is a condensed and edited version of our chat, in which we discuss how to balance self-expression with intentionally pleasing listeners.
In the '70s and '80s, Martha Wash was known for singing club hits alongside the legendary Sylvester. With Izora Rhodes, she formed the duo Two Tons o' Fun, which was renamed the Weather Girls when their indelible 1982 hit "It's Raining Men" took off. Her titanic soprano voice is unmistakable, but it didn't stop multiple producers from employing much thinner model types to lip synch Wash's vocals in videos without properly crediting Wash. And all because Wash is overweight and not your average girl in the video. These videos included Black Box's "Everybody Everybody" and "Strike It Up," as well as C+C Music Factory's global smash that helped define early '90s dance pop, "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)."
It's just a coincidence that LGBT History Month occurs during our culturally appointed Scariest Time of the Year—it’s positioned to coincide with National Coming Out Day (October 11) and to commemorate the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, which took place October 14, 1979, not with All Hallow's Eve.
Daft Punk's Random Access Memories emphatically exploits pop music's reliance on context. It's been eight years since the French house pop-crossover critical darlings released their last full-length album, 2005’s Human After All, which was initially a considered a disappointment. In that span, Human's furious pummeling and caustic textures went on to influence the prevailing style of house music more than any other single work of the past 10 years. If their prescience wasn't enough to bring Daft Punk back into the good graces of their audience, surely their 2007 live show performed on a mesmerizing light-up pyramid was.
During Saturday Night Live this weekend, a 15-second spot advertising the upcoming Daft Punk album aired. If the music debuting in the clip isn't a collaboration with dance-music legend Nile Rogers, who will have some hand in the full-length (the extent to which is as yet unknown), it sure wants to sound like it: It chugs along like Rogers' band Chic with the kind of lite cheese that Daft Punk so expertly sprinkle on some of their work.
"Attracting Flies" is another brilliant single from British R&B future-retroists AlunaGeorge. With each track (including my favorite single of 2012, "Your Drums, Your Love"), they hone their craft of sounding simultaneously familiar (like from the early '90s) and alien. It's true for their production and their lyrics, which are based on cliches to form something slightly more abstract. Instead of saying, "You're talking shit," in her naturally speedy voice, Aluna Francis sings, "Little gray fairy tales and little white lies / Everything you exhale is attracting flies." So Britishly polite.
I missed this when DFA released it last month (I'm blaming the holiday crunch), but I'm so glad that I finally caught up on this seemingly "White Horse"-inspired offering from YACHT. It's hard to tell if they are merely achieving or lampooning this pitch-perfect "downtown New York" affect (made more hilarious because the band is from all over the place), but there are dozens of examples of retro-obsessed, disco-inflected songs from the past decade that wish they sounded this good. Claire L. Evans' monotone delivery giving way to that sticky hook is diabolical. And those strings. And the way that some words come with an effect to make them sound like they're being sucked into outer space. And don't get me started about the way the song fakes its own death, only to come roaring back.
Yesterday, on the heels of a fake-out by Justin Timberlake that many thought would be his new single but turned out to be a minute-long ponderous YouTube video about him not releasing music, a new ballads collection from Destiny's Child was announced. Sporting 14 tracks that span the group's career, Love Songs will include the previously unreleased Pharrell Williams collaboration, "Nuclear."
It's strange that in a year when the two biggest pop music stories dealt with the renaissances that R&B and dance music are undergoing, we lost icons from those respective genres: Whitney Houston and Donna Summer. Long gone is the time when what those divas brought to their respective genres was fresh and, for that matter, commercially relevant—but the passing of the baton, the out with the old and in with the new, rarely feels so pronounced and tangible.
Today, the pint-size dance-pop queen Katy B, released a four-song EP called Danger, which is meant to be a placeholder between her 2011 debut On a Mission and her upcoming sophomore album. It is excellent because she is excellent: tasteful, accessible, charming. The best track is "Aalyiah," a '90s house throwback duet with Jessie Ware, in which both contemporary R&B-invoking singers plead with a character named Aaliyah to stay away from their men. The Guardian compares it to Dolly Parton's "Jolene," and indeed it is reminiscent of with a self-conscious twist: these two singers are paying tribute to the bewitching nature of the late Aaliyah by acknowledging her as an entity in pop songs, one that they can't even compete with. (Really, by naming the song that and spelled it that way, they couldn't possibly be referring to anyone else). The homage is coming from inside the song. Sophisticated and brilliant.