December 27, 2010 § 2 Comments
I spent a few days thinking about how best to present a review of the music that’s been released this year; I had to compose a personal top ten as part of a staff poll at the student paper I sometimes write for, but I’m not very happy with it and don’t necessarily want to write about each of them. I do really get into a small number of albums, but the only one that’s really grabbed me this year is Los Campesinos!’s Romance is Boring (it’s only a fiver at the moment!), and writing about ten albums as if I know them and have considered them intimately when I like a handful of songs from each would be dishonest and probably kind of boring. Instead, I’m going to write a series of track reviews, in no particular order, followed by a simple list of a top fifteen or so once they’re done. Here are the first few reviews – I hope you like them. As always, leave me a comment if you agree/disagree, or want to discuss anything further. More reviews will follow over the coming week – I’m not sure how many track reviews I’ll write in all, I’ll probably keep writing them until my spotify ‘best of 2010’ playlist dries up (or I do).
Meursault – Crank Resolutions (buy the album here, and there’s a free download of the track too)
I saw Meursault at Truck festival this summer (which was, for the most part, a dreadful experience). I saw a lot of bands there, but I think their set – early in the day, shorter than I wanted – was my favourite. They can repeat one phrase over and over again, and make me feel like I’m being punched in the stomach. This song is a good example; it’s emotional and upsetting, as he sings, slightly broken, ‘as they carry you away’, but it’s not histrionic or overblown. Meursault are never sentimental, but they’re sincere, in a lovely, sad way. The instrumentation is sparing; this makes it all the more moving when the electronics are there, when another member of the band doe sstart playing. It all matters. When he sings “I broke down – on New Year’s Day – and I mixed my drinks – and I lost my way”, and when he yells out after the line ‘they carried you away’ repeats, it makes me ache.
This isn’t the single from Hanlon’s latest album; that’s All These Things, and there’s a charming video for it that’s worth watching. But I think this is the better song; while the other one is a duet (although Hanlon sings more), this is just him, singing about a relationship breaking up. It’s a break-up song, but it feels quiet, not overpowered with grief; the song starts with the lines ‘we earmarked our August vacation / as a fine place to fall apart / then heard that a trial separation / was a quaint idea for a new start’, and it almost starts to feel safe, as if everything was planned, as if no emotions were involved. But as the song develops, it becomes clear that this isn’t the case; towards the end, Hanlon sings the lines ‘I wouldn’t trade one heartbroken minute / for a year’s worth of dull happiness’. He can see the relationship and its end for what it was; he and his partner did fall apart, he was heartbroken – but it was still worth it, for what he felt and experienced. It also allows him to sing, at the very end of the song, that although, he’s moving on, he knows that the person he addresses is ‘worth mourning for’. He can see the good and the bad in what has passed; this is why no one emotion overpowers him. But there’s still a quiet pain in the song, even as he sings about what he has learned. It takes time.
This song contains possibly some of the most ridiculous lyrics of the year, and not in a good way – who can forget Jay-Z saying “everybody want to know what my achilles heel is / LOOOVE, I don’t get enough of it…”, or Kanye West’s ‘put the pussy in a sarcophagus’? But Nicki Minaj just makes this song. Listen to it all the way through once – the rest is still competent, and quite funny in places, although Bon Iver grates – but then, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself going back to 3:35 over and over again in order to hear Minaj start her onslaught. She changes her voice’s tone, pitch, accent from line to line, she’s sweetly sarcastic, then she shouts, and then she screams.
Her writing and timing make her untouchable. She addresses an unnamed adversary, incredulously: ‘so, let me get this straight, wait, I’m the rookie / but my features and my shows ten times your pay / fifty K for a verse, no album out? / yeah, my money’s so tall that my barbie’s gonna climb it / hotter than a middle eastern climate’, turning masculine chart-rap’s lyrical obsession with money as a shorthand for status and dominance on its head. But apart from all of this; she’s gloriously fun. She raps about cheesecake and barbie dolls, she shouts that she wears ‘gold teeth and fangs / ‘CAUSE THAT’S WHAT A MOTHERFUCKING MONSTER DO’, and she blithely spells out ‘f-u-c-k’ in a way that had me just repeating it in my head, mindlessly. You’ll want to hear it again. She packs so much in as she steamrolls over what is ostensibly Kanye’s song; it’s instantly catchy, and dense enough to reward twenty, thirty, forty rewindings.