Friday, October 11, 2002
Top Five!

1. Luomo - The Present Lover
People scratched their heads when they heard "Diskonize Me" and "Body Speaking" - why was Luomo retreating from his inspired melding of house, dub and IDM towards, well, pure disco house? I agreed with those who felt that this was slightly inferior product, but I'm sympathetic to Luomo's motivations - an infatuation with disco, with its romantic non-stop pump, its lush physicality and it's heartbreaking narratives, is pushing him deeper into its center and away from the technical peculiarities of his former work. "The Present Lover" is the pay-off: something like an endless volley from bliss-bridge to bliss-bridge, all urgent-meaningless evocations and heartrending disco riffs, while a lonesome guitar serenades a distant diva with a bereft, hopeless wail. "I'm the present, the true lover," the male singer exclaims (and aren't male singers just so much better for Luomo anyway?) his voice heavy with unvoiced desire as it slowly glides across the groove, dragged into graceful whirpools of sonic manipulation and stutter-riffs. He sounds confident, arrogant even, but its a coke-fuelled illusion, a show of strength ("nobody does it better!") concealing gaping vulnerabilites, a deep sense of inadequacy. Wannabe Cassanovas, they're playing our song.

2. Holly Valance - Down Boy
I don't understand people who object to "Down Boy"; I mean, "Kiss Kiss" might be vulnerable to accusations of trying to hard (and even then it's pretty good), but this, this is near perfection. Less flashy but more captivating than "Kiss Kiss", Down Boy isn’t so much a pop song as an urgent throb. With its quiet Indian-jungle beats and tensely strummed guitar doing their best to avoid any sort of melody, it’s probably the most subtle piece of chart-pop in living memory, albeit with a fantastically twisted electro bridge. Holly adamantly clings to her ‘coy whispers and purrs’ preset – on the evidence at hand it seems actually singing isn’t an option for her – but it works perfectly, as does the Madonna-or-whore narrative. Raises the question: why is it that despite living in the age of machine-pop, so few pop stars have thought about using it their machines to become quieter? In any case, someone should send flowers to Holly’s handlers for a job well done.

3. Skandalouz United - Tiger; Gritty - Step Off
Eager to prove that Horsepower Productions aren't just an inspired one-off, there seem to be a number of garage producers aping their dub-heavy, dainty-but-frantic beatslaying style at the moment, and it's all to the good. Most pretenders can't match the Horsepower trio for eerie reggae vibes, instead opting for more straightforward dancefloor spazz-out pyrotechnics, like a slightly more wired take on The Wideboys in their heyday. There's some great examples on right now: Skandalouz Unltd's "Tiger" is manic tropicalia, recasting exoticism as dangerousness with its fiddly beats and big bass hits - even the most over-the-top bongo fetishists in jungle never got so fucked-up as this. "Step Off" is perhaps even better, retaining a latent tropical flow but adding horror-ska organs and and eerie sound-effects ("look out! look out! look out!") in an even more blatant bid for Twilight Zone territory. The secret to this stuff is that the beats barely touch the ground, hotstepping across glowing coal basslines in a manner that could be agility, could be pained retraction. There's no time to rest, gotta keep moving.

4. Martini Bros - Boy/Girl
Martini Bros may be merely another one of these micro-electro-pop groups that are springing up everywhere, but has anyone done this sort of thing better than "Flash"? The ominous bass riffs, the synth whines, the slightly-too-polite-to-be-trusted vocals - it's one of the very few songs that makes me feel that dreaded "why doesn't this get into the charts???" wistfulness. The snatches of the rest of the album I've heard suggest that the boys also take their cues from My Bloody Valentine - or Ride maybe - and Saint Etienne (if you can believe it), but "Boy/Girl" is pure micro-pop confection, a ventrical-pumping dub-house groove underpinning the oddly melancholy refrain, "disco girl/disco boy" while smears of tonal colour in the background imagine scores of emotional casualties on the dancefloor.

5. Camielle - Yada Yada Yada
How many acts flagrantly aping Lina will it take for the original (and the best) to finally get some attention? "Yada Yada Yada" is even more strict in its adherence to Lina's blueprint than Blu Cantrell's "Hit 'Em Up Style" - ragtime samples, affected bluesy vocals and almost the exact same tune as Lina's peerless "Watch Your Mouth (Baby Blue)". Luckily then Camielle executes her homage perfectly, and is blessed with a nicely dirtied up variation on the 1920s theme from Dallas Austin that sounds almost live in its random clash of instruments and sounds (is that Kate Bush being sampled towards the end?). Two things make "Yada Yada Yada" extra cool: first, the lyric "you see, he was cool until he started to believe all the lyrics on his hip hop cd, tried to tell him that he wasn't Jay-Z, so don't try to please me!" - it sounds better than it reads, and I like the idea that Camielle's gonna pull herself up the ladder by blatantly referencing everything around her. Second: the subtle and shorts bursts of dancehall toasting she slips into; I love the idea that R&B is now so full of cultural and stylistic allusions that artists can pick and choose what they want from the shelf like kids in a candy store.


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