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22
Jan 18

2018 Music Diary Week 3: The Week Of Appropriation

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NEW MUSIC

fob mania

Day 19: FALL OUT BOY – Mania: Short, and making no secret of its modern pop inspiration (there’s a song here with a reggaeton beat!), Mania underlines Fall Out Boy’s flexibility and their continuity. Basically, they’re all about those long, epigrammic lyrical unburdenings – what makes FOB FOB is their cadences, not their instruments. Wentz’ lyrics don’t necessarily even connect, they’re a series of verbal poses and the songs, in whatever style, are the catwalk.

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15
Jan 18

2018 Music Diary Week 2: The Week Of Intensity

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NEW MUSIC

camila lp

Day 12: Camila Cabello – Camila: Short, well-put-together pop LP which puts “Havana” fourth – I don’t really get how post-physical media track ordering works, but back in the day this would have been a statement that yes, she has plenty of others where that came from, thank you. And it’s true – the sound of the LP is the woozy, sparse mid-tempo mode of current pop, but with stronger songs and Cabello’s slightly raspy, bullshit-weary tone to elevate it.

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9
Jan 18

Popular Crystal Ball: 2017 – Islands In The Stream

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Tom, enjoying Havana

Tom, enjoying Havana

Its Sheeranmania bookends might fool you into thinking that 2017 was just as bad a year for Number Ones as 2016. It wasn’t. For a start, very little could be. But while last year saw the charts reeling under the impact of streaming, this year they adjusted. New rules: get people in the first 30 seconds or GTFO (aka fail to count as a play, fall off the Spotify playlists, etc.) The emerging formula – with some variations – is to put the chorus first and then, if we’re lucky, fool around with variations and guest spots later. Those stars big enough to ignore this imperative often used their power badly.

Anyway, the Number Ones of 2017, in order. I’m pleasantly surprised at how far down this list I have to go before I get to singles I would turn off rather than hear. I’m also pleasantly surprised that – assuming I ever get my groove back – the future of Popular holds the opportunity to write about Young Thug, Quavo, Daddy Yankee, Chance The Rapper, and more. But I’m disappointed that I don’t really love any of these songs, even my favourite.

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8
Jan 18

2018 Music Diary Week 1: The Week Of Flutes

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Last year I posted the new records I listened to every day on Facebook, deliberately writing nothing about them. This year I’m still listening to a new (to me) record every day, but I’m trying to be more thorough about what I think of them, and I’ll be posting this every week on here.

NEW MUSIC (2018)

cupcakke ephorize

Day 5: CupcaKke – Ephoriser: New LP from the Chicago rapper – last year’s Queen Elizabitch got the balance just right between ear-burning sex raps, conscious stuff, put-downs of the competition and introspective jams, and the beats were sproingy good-time things. This new one is a lot less fun – consciously so in places – but even the filth sounds jaded, dutiful even. Some strong, melancholy beats – a lot of woodwind – but they don’t suit CupcaKke’s aggressive, barking flow that well.

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2
Jan 18

Provenance And Use AKA A Vague Critical Resolution

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Culture circulates online within algorithm-driven networks: Google, Twitter, Facebook, Spotify, etc. These are also automatic measurement systems. Two particularly valuable things they measure are attribution – the path you took to reach something – and conversion (in its crudest form, did you buy it? but we can also throw in engagement, sharing, and other such soft interactions).

I’m using “valuable” here in the sense of “this is data marketers want”, which is why I’m also using the hard, gross language of attribution and conversion. Emotionally there’s a temptation to try and disengage from this, treating cultural objects (especially art, music, etc) as separate from the networks which reveal and sustain, but also exploit and reduce them.

I feel strongly that I don’t want to do this. If that data is powerful, I want to reclaim and name it for myself. I’m not talking about having more power over the algorithms that affect us and more visibility of their outcomes. That kind of thing is vital political work but as a writer about culture I also feel I should be keeping sight of the human and personal dimension of attribution and conversion – or, to use better words, provenance and use.

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12
Dec 17

My Pop Year: AUSTRA – “We Were Alive”

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Austra’s Future Politics was one of the first 2017 albums I heard, somewhere in the weeks of dread, defiance and hand-wringing around the Trump inauguration. It’s coloured how I hear it ever since. The title announces it as a ‘political’ album, the sleeve signals that the contents are likely to be cryptic. Austra’s Katy Stelmaris embraces our time of heightened nerves, this mode of being – which many lived in well before Trump – where ‘politics’ can exhaustingly infect every gesture. But she also rejects it, insists on ambiguity and a realm of private meaning.

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7
Dec 17

My Pop Year: SERGE BEYNAUD – “Akrakabo”

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Serge Beynaud’s Accelerate LP is a danceable feast, showing how Cote D’Ivoire’s coupe-decale is one of those musics which can absorb almost anything, from pop-reggae to trap-style vocal exclamation. It’s potentially exhausting to take on in full, but the quality is consistent – put it on shuffle for a few tracks and ride Beynaud’s ebullience until you start to tire, then repeat next time you’re in the mood.

Lead single and first track “Akrakabo” is always a good place to start. Here the music that’s pulled into the whirl is some sweet West African guitar pop, which breaks through like a grin after two pummeling, bouncing minutes of rhythm. It’s a wonderful moment. If the pace of the rest feels crazed, check the video to see Beynaud and his formation dancers handle it with aplomb (plus the fakest sheikh this side of News International.)

6
Dec 17

My Pop Year: JANA RUSH – “??? ??”

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The titles of Jana Rush’s tracks on her Pariah LP have an enjoyable bluntness. “Beat Maze.” “Chill Mode”. “Frenetic Snare.” She’s been DJing and making records for over 20 years, since she was 15. This is her debut full-length. So I suspect there’s a healthy unwillingness to piss about, or to dress up her music with unnecessary atmospherics. As another of the tracks puts it, “No Fuks Given”. It is what it is.

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29
Nov 17

My Pop Year: KELLY CLARKSON – “Love So Soft”

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Writing about Will Young it was hard not to be reminded of Kelly Clarkson, who likewise showed that the first blush of reality TV idols were the best – in terms, at least, of producing stars you can feel vague but huge affection for. I always want Clarkson to do well, and hope her material’s good, despite honestly not knowing a great deal about her. Fortunately the material on her 2017 LP, Meaning Of Life, IS good, almost uniformly strong – this is the track that jumped out for me on first play, and it was the single, but half the record could have been here. Strong in more ways than one, too – Clarkson projects confidence, toughness and wisdom, relishing the role of a soul-pop trouper who’s seen a few things. What comes across in “Love So Soft”‘s chants, squeaks and swagger is a hard-earned, no-nonsense joy in life: a pop music that’s happy in its own skin. Which might not ordinarily impress, but in the year the world’s had, it’s a balm.

28
Nov 17

My Pop Year: SYD – “Know”

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On first listen I liked Syd’s Fin mainly for its Spartan vibe: low-key, late-night R&B synths. Moody and pleasant. My second listen was like my eyes were adjusting to a dark room – songs emerged as ultraviolet blooms. The one that jumped out most was “Know”. How could a track this full of tension and subtle incident have seemed just part of a whole?

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