Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Forty Favorite Pop Songs of 2010: #40 - 36

One year ago today, I embarked upon a journey into the world of music journalism with an open mind, an eagerness to learn, and a vague but important purpose in mind: to bring to the loosely defined genre and industry of "pop music" the type of thoughtful and intelligent commentary, criticism and analysis previously all but exclusive to the exclusive, elitist, snooty, and even more loosely defined realm of "indie," "rock," or otherwise non-pop music and almost pointedly denied to most mainstream-leaning music, as if the art form itself was so inferior as not to merit such consideration to begin with. It's been a fun ride thus far, at times requiring more training wheel assistance than I might have liked while still cultivating the occasional burst of inspired critical joyrides (of which I am thoroughly proud, perhaps to a greater extent than would be polite to publicize), and the immense amount of education I've received that I had no idea might be out there to receive is what excites me most leading into the second year of Vertigo Shtick's young existence. It's a convenient anniversary to have, coinciding as it does with the orgy of year-end roundup posts, lists, and summations of which it seems my peers in the music journalism realm simply cannot get enough.


Remember this? Vertigo Shtick's very first header.
While I take pride in Vertigo Shtick's continued commitment to the kind of in-depth, musically and artistically interesting coverage the brilliant writers at Pitchfork, one of my main inspirations, bestow upon all kinds of music excepting anything marginally more popularly appreciated than Robyn, or that the brilliant satirists/critics at PopJustice, the best pop music writing currently being produced (but with a UK-centric focus), have made and defended that title, let it not be said that I am immune to the self-important thrill of declaring and delineating those songs/albums/artists/events, etc. that Vertigo Shtick deems the greatest of them all. Of course, since I shan't yet go so far as to expect anyone to accept these lists as any more informed or reliable than those of one's senile Grandpa Joe or eleven-year-old Justin Bieber fanatic, I'll be sure to provide as much explanation and/or defense as possible to better inform and edify the curious reader. Here, therefore, is the first segment of a list I'll call Vertigo Shtick's Forty Favorite Pop Songs of 2010. If I might draw your attention to the word "favorite" and point out the difference in definition from that of "Best" once more before you proceed, perhaps some eyebrow muscles will be saved the effort required to extend vertically in dubiousness.

Vertigo Shtick's Forty Favorite Songs of 2010
#40 - 36


40. “None of Dem” Robyn feat. Röyksopp (Body Talk Pt. 1/Body Talk)

When former '90s teen pop princess-turned-critically adored rebel/pop genius Robyn announced, early this year, that she was to return after nearly half a decade promoting her masterpiece self-titled album - and not just return, but return with THREE albums before year's end - I doubt even her most ardent admirers (one among whom I count myself) were at all prepared for the deliriously fantastic barrage of near-perfect electronic dance-pop the Swedish icon would eventually pile upon us. Upon the June 15 release of by-then mostly leaked Body Talk Pt. 1, though, it was clear that Robyn had every intention of superceding even the high standard and expectations she'd set for herself, with a sprawling set of eight rather different tracks whose main commonalities were experimentation and excellence. "None of Dem," her collaboration with Norwegian electronica duo Röyksopp (for whose 2009 single "The Girl and the Robot" Robyn provided the mesmerizing vocal), is a haunting rebuff to a dreary, stagnant town from a worldly rebel meant for much more, echoing the album-wide theme of the outsider that also frames "Cry When You Get Older," "Dancehall Queen" and "Dancing On My Own." I should admit to taking rather a long while to appreciate this track, finally coming to my senses after seeing her perform the song at the second of two U.S. club tours this year (both of which I attended). It may also have been that I never bothered to listen to the track in full, thereby missing the full minute and a half Röyksopp draws out a chilling, minor arpeggio-laden climax, as if the rebel behind the lyrics were defiantly riding the road out of town, but heading toward a sunset that portends the potential of something even more sinister. SO European.


39. “Can't Be Tamed” Miley Cyrus (Can't Be Tamed)

Enter this one under "semi-guilty pleasures" (it's the first of several). This summer, the Artist Then-Soon to Be Formerly Known as Hannah Montana embarked upon her next step towards shedding the character and accompanying varnish that comes with being a bonafide Disney child star. Such a feat demands walking in the heavy footsteps of former Mouse House kids who made it big in the real world like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Zac Efron and Lindsay Lohan (ideally not the exact footsteps of Lindsay Lohan, but time will tell), but Cyrus is clearly jam-packed with the right stuff - including the wisdom to learn from one's elders, hence her liberal borrowing from the careers of Ms. Spears and Ms. Aguilera and coming out as a rebelliously-sexualized not-quite-18 year old, complete with midriff-baring album cover and a music video simply engineered to keep prudish stay-at-home moms with YouTube accounts and a penchant for judgment and posting comments plenty occupied (it also features a pair of killer CGI wings and an allover well-executed dance routine taking place inside a sinister-looking Museum of Natural History, of all places). It's a shame that some lazy producer felt it appropriate to dress up Cyrus' demonstrably solid voice with the by-then increasingly disparaged Auto-Tune in the style of the moment...about six months earlier, but it's a minor quibble, so convincing and urgent is Cyrus' vocal on the coming-out single. Neither the single and accompanying album were terribly successful, but I sense Can't Be Tamed may likely be merely a bridge from Cyrus' first non-Hannah Montana set Meet Miley Cyrus and an as-yet unannounced major release album cementing the singer's post-Disney persona without the need for further explanation.

Tremble before my bitchin' CGI-enhanced visual metaphor.

38. “Whip My Hair” Willow  (Whip My Hair - Single)

I have to hand it to whoever greenlit a garishly overproduced pop/hip-hop jam about flaying one's locks in both directions as a means of flipping one's detractors the bird, sung by nine-year-old girl with movie star parents (and older brother), because not only does he or she possess some serious gonads, Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair" has turned out to be a rollicking, uplifting smash hit that has gleeful listeners of every age, race and level of elitism headbanging in a manner not seen since the death of Kurt Cobain. Smith (daughter to Will and Jada Pinkett) delivers a vocal that's necessarily endearing but also impressively confident and sassy in precisely the right manner to sell the moderately trite personal empowerment message. It's a performance that somehow manages to be both thoroughly age-appropriate (not here, praise the pop music gods, any uncomfortably/unbelievably disingenuous sexuality or romantic sentiment) and skilled beyond the young singer's paltry years, which bodes well for her planned debut album set to arrive early next year.


37. “Wouldnit (I'm a Star)” Ono (Dave Aude Club Dub)

Yoko Ono, the Japanese avant-garde musician, controversial widow of the late John Lennon and accused catalyst/scapegoat for the breakup of The Beatles, is now 77 years old, but that didn't keep her from hitting the top spot on the Billboard Dance Club Play chart earlier this year. Admittedly, that particular chart sees more than its share of quirky absurdities, but when Yoko Ono appears in the number one slot on any Billboard chart 42 years after "Revolution 9," even a relatively casual dance music consumer like me might be moved to shell out a dollar for the iTunes download. The Dave Aude club mix of Ono's 1995 track "Wouldnit," off her 1995 album Rising, is but the latest in a nearly decade-long collaboration between Ono and a lengthy list of electronic and dance producers and djs, creating club-ready dance remixes of an eclectic selection of the eccentric musician's hefty repertoire, and the seventh to hit number one on the Dance Club Play chart since 2000. At just over six minutes, the track is succinct enough to hold the interest of traditional pop-leaning folks like me for whom the repetitive, cut-and-paste stylistic norms of the remix genre quickly grow tiresome, but still packs enough bonafide techno-dance punch to please the hardcore aficionados.


36. “Evacuate the Dancefloor” Cascada (Evacuate the Dancefloor)

I was never much into German dance group Cascada's 2005 hit "Everytime We Touch," and for some time while my only exposure to their newest chart-stormer "Evacuate the Dancefloor" came via the occasional chance encounter mid-song from a radio or store loudspeaker system I was unswayed in my lack of interest. It was only when I made a point, for some fleeting and long-since forgotten reason, to give the track a listen from start to finish, that I found something intriguing about the song's uniquely brazen approach to the melody of the two initial verses, particularly the dazzlingly complicated half-step chord progression on the trio of couplets "steal the night/ kill the lights," "time is right/ keep it tight" and "wrap it up/ can't stop" that precede the chorus, which, after such an unexpected and unusual exercise in melodic sophistication (and vocalist Natalie Horler's impressive command of the cruelly difficult harmonies therein) comes, to me at least, as something of a letdown. Though I rarely play the full length of the track (as is my tendency with the Ting Tings' similarly formulated "That's Not My Name," which loses me when Katie White's sassiness gives way to a repetitive, anticlimactic legato that somehow saps all the bite out of lyrics as delicious as "Are you calling me darling? Are you calling me bird?"), "Evacuate the Dancefloor" has graced my iPod playlist more times in the past year than I ever would have predicted.


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