1. Madonna - Die Another Day
This sounds better as a buzzy radio curio than as a clean and pristine MP3, perhaps just because it's so cool to think of this pumping out of soundsystems around the country. As I was saying on ILM somewhere, what is really striking about "Die Another Day" is that it's the first Madonna song in quite a while that isn't immediately referable to a better non-Madonna song - this sounds genuinely odd and entrancing. Comprising a stop-start mess of electro beats, a profusion of micro-details, a swamp of sludgy acid whines and a flock of harrying cut-up string riffs, as good as "Die Another Day" is musically, really this song begins and ends with Madonna's performance. Still vocoderised, but this time meaningfully, she exclaims "Sigmund Freud/analyse this" - a rubbishy look-at-me line, but one which gives weight and context to everything else here that we might otherwise pass over quickly and unconcernedly. "I'm gonna destroy my ego/I'm gonna close my body now/I'm gonna suspend my senses/I'm gonna delay my pleasure/I'm gonna close my body now" she chants like a mantra, a final plea. There's always been a certain will-to-oblivion within Madonna's more electronic work ("Deeper & Deeper", "Bedtime Story", "Skin", "Impressive Instant") but "Die Another Day" moves beyond dancefloor daze in favour of total ossification. She's not just a disco machine, she's a dreaming android
with major developmental problems. Obviously this is a great, great thing.
2. Amerie - Need You Tonight
I love "Why Don't We Fall In Love" - shimmering aural confection like nothing since "Girls, Girls, Girls", and Amerie's is the most interesting facsimile of soul since Mary J Blige started out. "Need You Tonight" isn't better
, but it's just as good, which is impressive in itself. Hard to describe, this one: an ultra-slow dance groove, dirty bass drops setting off scintillating flights of glass-smash percussion, while Amerie gets a bit raw and ragged with emotion over the top. Apparently this is her idea of a club track, but it's too deliciously frustrating for that, too painfully drawn out, too interested in emoting all over the place (for once in a good way) to ever really settle into something as uncomplicated as a hook. Amerie's idea of a club, maybe, is one of spiked desires, of agonising pauses and missed chances. Can't wait to hear the album.
3. Babu Stormz - Electricity; Blowfelt ft. Slarta John - Back Up Back Up (Mr. Shabz Mix)
These two are linked in my mind for their none-more-perverse Jamaican-garage biznizz. "Electricity" lurches and stomps with drunken abandon, unsure of whether it wants to be 4/4 or dancehall, while a succession of female vocal stylings - ruffneck ragga rumbles, raucous hardcore chants ("rollin' like a trilogy!") and gaseous diva wails - cater for every taste. "Back Up Back Up" is the male-fronted sequel "Booo!" never had, the same evil dirge bass propping up frantic, live-sounding 2-step rhythms while Slarta gives a superb don't-test-me performance, incomprehensible to these ears and perhaps all the better for it. For all their weirdness and wiredness, both are irresistible pop songs. see also: the great Bump & Flex Dub of Ladies First's "Last Chance", where just before the excellent bass-driven hook the girls warn, "Don't be afraid of the bassline!"
4. Erick Sermon ft. Redman - React
I quite like Sermon's last album Music
- there's a certain truck-rockin' consistency to it that makes it quite hypnotic - but the sameyness tends to frustrate me, mainly because Erick himself doesn't captivate as easily as Redman can on a similar sort of track. "React" solves both problems, bringing in Redman to spice things up in his effortless manner, and jumping on the back of the latest big trend: Indian sound-tourism. On "React" though the Indian vibe feels more arbitrary than in other tracks, just something to distract you while you nod your head to the stomping beat. I mean, it works well (the little vocal samples are lovely) but it sounds more like some cool sound that the producer stumbled across than some deliberate lurch into exoticism. Which is actually sort of cool in its own way: it suggests that Timbaland-style adventurousness is being naturalised within hip hop, such that the common intention is simply to make a slamming track, but the ingredients for such a track are expanded far beyond yer usual funk samples. And, previous comments notwithstanding, I love Sermon's flow too, his epithets carrying a stamp of authority that strangely reminds me of recent Posdnuous, investing lines like "Come through and storm the block like El Nino!" with a... credibility? self-belief?... that makes them sound much stronger than they otherwise might be.
5. Further - Stone Cold (Original Mix)
Playhouse are probably the most Chicago-obsessed of the big and great German house labels, and one of my favourite tracks on their Famous When Dead
compilation is Freaks' "Turning Orange (To Please You)", where a lust-struck Romanthony-esque male diva spends nine minutes working himself into a sweat over an endless, remorseless funk-inspired house rhythm. Further's "Stone Cold" (on Ricardo Villalobos's Lo-Fi Stereo label) is less frenetic than "Turning Orange" but more decadent, its clapped-out disco-funk groove and Zapp-like electrobass burbles latching onto a subtler, sleazier sort of pleasure. The current German house paradigm, apart from its plethora of sonic thrills, has also created as a side-benefit a sort of quiet, voyeuristic eroticism that's as German as Kraftwerk. It's this feel - hammered out lovingly by artists like Markus Nikolai, Decomposed Subsonic and Closer Musik - that Further latch on to. "Have you seen her? There she goes. It's all about her walk and her pose" a quiet robot-not-robot explains, and then, "it's all about the cut of her clothes." Lurching back and forth suggestively for seven minutes, "Stone Cold" is real cocaine music, as dazzling and dizzying as anything on Daft Punk's Discovery
, and almost as thrilling.