Friday, August 27, 2004
Fond Feelings:

Whigfield - Was A Time
Big big repeat-replay tune for me. What is it about shuffle/schaffel?!? I've already written so much about it but there's something about this stuff that makes me feel like there's more more always more to say, it's like a bottomless well of potential but elusive meaning. But the joy of "Was A Time" isn't just its driving glam rhythm; this reminds of one of those early uptempo Saint Etienne tunes ("Join Our Club" maybe, though the chiming Spanish guitar, twining round the beats like bright crimson wisteria, actually puts it closer to "Duke Duvet", or Basement Jaxx's "Rendez-vu"): blatantly populist and physical but also eerie and magical, but most importantly all of these things at once, all inextricably intertwined.

Whigfield has a great presence here as well, with hints of shrill imperiousness that remind me slightly of early Sinead O'Connor, but then folded back into her sweet pop persona - "da da da da" backing vocals and anxious-to-please key changes. Best of all, her departures into slightly scary spoken word! "Too. Bad. I. Can't. Read. Your. Mind!" She sees a europop hit and she wants to paint it black...

M. Mayer - Speaker
Underrated this for the longest time: who needs Mayer in non-lush mode? But I've come around to the idea that this Chicago house throwback is one of Mayer's most satisfying records, and (theoretically) a dancefloor bomb. As with pretty much all Mayer tracks the focus is on the subtle build, from the ultra-sparse opening (just a 4/4 pound and a spectral synth hook) through ominous bass riffs and skeletal hi-hats, and then a raft tiny insectile percussive effects and that stereo-panning minimal acid squiggle, squirming around your neck, ears and shoulders. The polite gentility of the robotic vocal ("I am not a talker; I'm a speaker, speaking to you") is the key to the track's success I think: Mayer never goes for the easy payoff menace that was open to him, just a gradually increasing, compulsive disquiet, a scratch you can't itch but which seems to itch itself.

And THEN! Those slightly syncopated handclaps, only just out of time with the kickdrum so that the rhythm section generates a delightful friction. I like to think that those handclaps represent some sort of the dramatic irony, hinting at something "we" know about the groove but which the groove itself doesn't. I realise that doesn't make sense. At any rate it's a wonderful record, one whose sparseness belies the enormous amount of care and attention that has gone into its construction. I've listened to it more than just about anything else these last few weeks. I'd love to play it first in a DJ set, and feel the hair on dancers' necks rise as they begin to sense just what sort of groove is actually overtaking them.

Christina Milian ft. Joe Budden - Whatever You Want
Christina's album has so many exceptional tracks ("I Can Be That Woman"! "Miss You Like Crazy"!), that it's hard to single out one, but I chose this one because it helps me to get out of bed in the morning, and indeed, may end up serving this function for the longest stretch since the tyranny of Shakedown's "At Night" in 2002. Like Mya's peerless "Free", "Whatever You Want" is a shameless, brassy disco retread, all funky bass and triumphant horns and whistles. So far so good, but it's Christina makes this track, her performance so self-assured and confident and right there that she resembles a particularly talented Idol finalist, full of live panache and wearing an outfit to die for.

Fantastic lyrics, too: "I can feel the groove when you're holding me, like to let you think you're controlling me" her multitracked vocals admit, before the "real", unaccompanied Christina cuts in, "...even though that ain't the deal - when I want I take the wheel!" with a sassy delight that's irresistible. Joe's in fine form too: "Only Mike puts up numbers like me, and he's no longer playing but"-and here somewhat remorsefully-"neither am I!" (Everyone tells me Joe's album sucks, but between this and "Pump It Up" and "Fire" he's three for three as far as I'm concerned.) Something tells me that commercially this isn't gonna be Christina's "Crazy in Love" like "Dip It Low" was her "Baby Boy" - its disco bounce fun seems too innocent and uncomplicated for the current chart climate - but I'd dearly love to be proven wrong.

Ciara ft. Petey Pablo - Goodies
Houston - I Like That

I love love LOVE R&B-crunk crossover (someone on ILM labelled this stuff "bubblecrunk"!). I think back when I first heard "Yeah" last year I posted here with the guilty confession that I kinda preferred it to "proper" crunk. That remains true, except that I no longer feel guilty - who couldn't love these deliciously melted collisions of slinky song and hardcore grunt. If much crunk proper has a slightly uncomfortable aggressive air to it, tunes like "I Like That" and "Goodies" (not to mention Pablo's "Freek-a-Leek") blur the edges with soft tunefulness, so that their high-impact hi-jinx have a flushed sensuality, still deep-thrusting but more consensual, still a penetrative force but akin to a probing, questing tongue.

Like probing tongues, these tracks rest on that sexual/sickly divide. "I Like That" positively slithers, its overstuffed profusion of synths prickling and sticking to the skin on the inside of your ears. It's hard to think of another recent R&B tune that sounds so immediately large, so inviting from the very first note. And I love the array of lead vocals, backing vocals ("Wo Wo Wo Wo!") and guest raps seem to overlap eachother - everything about this track seems to suggest a certain spilling over, a wasteful excess that I love.

"Goodies" is closer to the weedy-in-the-best-sense Lil Jon blueprint (and indeed he produced this): enormous handclaps, an addictive synthwhistle hook and of course those ubiquitous rave riffs. Ciara (a singer? a group? it's hard to tell) remind(s) me of En Vogue circa Masterpiece Theatre, combining breathy allure with a cynical priggishness that verges on a generalised dislike of men - or perhaps rather the unwashed masses. For Ciara (as with En Vogue), being classy necessitates being classist, and they affect an almost aristocratic pretension here - including a brief outburst of shrill, almost operatic vocal melodrama. Which is why the clash between Ciara's faux-refinement and the unrepentant baseness of Lil Jon's production is inspired: totally undermining Ciara's claims to respectability, the cheap and wanton groove leaves them resembling bad actors in a sexploitation film, protesting in vain that they musn't, musn't give in, all the while allowing their blouses to slip further and further.


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