TAKING STOCK, MARCH 2014
These are the tracks I’ve been obsessing about this year.
Katy B, “Vulnerable/Drunk In Love”
I’m enjoying Little Red more than I initially thought I would - every ingredient for a botch job is here, from Guy Chambers collaborations to terrible, single-frontloading sequencing to baffling bonus track choices, but somehow within it all lurks a very decent album. But the most revelatory Katy B work of 2014 are these live covers, in which she takes one unremarkable original and one (rightly) ubiquitous original, and turns them inside out. Finding the dark side of a pop song is a cliché, but Katy sells the unrequited neediness hard. The lurch into “I’ve been drinking, I’ve been drinking” is one of dread; “how the hell did this shit happen?” is pure hungover doom. Katy recasts Beyoncé’s anthem of long-term monogamy back to uncertain singledom and wasted one-night stands.
Tinashe ft. Schoolboy Q, “2 On”
I’d dutifully listened to three Tinashe mixtapes before this year, one of which contained the original “Vulnerable”, and she really seemed like yet another frail-voiced post-Cassie waif being colourless over sub-Drake subaquatic beats. Whatever. But hooking up with DJ Mustard is such a good look for her - his snaps and bass give Tinashe the oomph she lacks on her own, and her dry ice approach to singing works so much better when it’s juxtaposed with a beat with actual physicality to it. And though I was sold on the song long before it happened, that glacially enunciated interpolation of Sean Paul towards the end is a stroke of recontextualising genius.
Mariah Carey, “You’re Mine (Eternal)”
It’s such a lovingly crafted, delicate crystal vase of a song - the kind of time-stopping reverie Mariah’s done many times before, but lavishes care and embellishments (the piano motif! the way the percussion rattles!) on like the massive audio nerd she is. The sound is so beautiful that it takes a couple of listens to realise she’s using words like “suffered” and “suffocating”: like her finest ever song, "Breakdown", she’s in a state of emotional collapse, but perfectly comfortable there.
DJ Pioneer & TJ ft. Dana McKeon, “Circles”
The imperial period of UK vocal house, part one. An oddly similar reverie to the Mariah single, except this takes place drifting away on the dancefloor rather than reclining on a chaise longue. Everything about the ebbs and flows of the beat and Dana McKeon’s abstracted performance is worthy of getting lost in.
Kiesza, “Hideaway (Gorgon City Remix)”
The imperial period of UK vocal house, part two. I love Kiesza’s use of the word “just” in this song: you may take her higher than before and keep her breathing, but that’s nothing…
Redlight ft. Lotti, “36”
The imperial period of UK vocal house, part three: if Kiesza was qualified euphoria, this is unbridled euphoria. Love the “woo!”s.
Neon Jungle, “Braveheart”
It’s been slightly confusing to see US pop critics get on board the Little Mix bandwagon in a big way recently. As much as I approve of what they’re going for stylistically, Writing’s On The Wall-era Destiny’s Child retreads just show up how little they’ve transcended their X Factor amateurishness (lest we forget, they impressed a grand total of once on the show). And their persona is still stuck on that desperate “likeability” that this country’s Saturday evening light entertainment culture tries to reduce everyone to - fearful of offending a bigoted audience quick to punish any celebrity, especially female ones, for putting a foot out of line.
I don’t want to set up a false dichotomy, but this single from fellow UK girl group Neon Jungle presses all my buttons immediately. They’re a long way from having the kind of clearly defined aesthetic that Girls Aloud and Sugababes nailed off the bat, but “Braveheart” is sharp-elbowed and rambunctious, has a rap that disdains bougie bitches and hipster chicks, and about as terrific a use of THE DROP in a pop song as you’ll hear in 2014. In other words, there’s an element of that don’t-give-a-fuck fierceness that I always crave in a girl group.
QQ, “Mosquito Net”
I can’t wait for carnival, part one. All about QQ’s ad libs - the hmphs, the brrrs, the gal!s - and I love that his cadence mirrors the relentless energy of Lady Saw and Ce’Cile’s all-time classic "Loser".
J Capri, “Reverse It”
Vybz Kartel ft. J Capri, “Mamacita”
I can’t wait for carnival, parts two and three. I want to crown J Capri the female dancehall MVP of 2014 on the basis of these alone. Aggressive sexuality over martial beats and digital steel pans forever, basically.
Kalado, “Pree Money & Gyal”
I can’t wait for carnival, part four. One of those hooks that’s been stuck indelibly and defiantly in my head for a while now, I’m happy with that.
Yemi Alade, “Johnny”
I can’t wait for carnival, part five: afrobeats version. I love the low-key nomadic monomania of this.
Shawnna, “Gettin’ To It”
Shawnna Singles Of The ’10s That No One Else Cares About is easily one of my favourite genres of this decade - I still find the reeling acrobatics of 2010’s "Nappy Boy" and 2011’s sinister spaghetti western "Biddy Bye Bye" astonishing. Lately, a certain ragged weariness has crept into her rapping and bragging - perhaps the weariness that comes after over a decade in the game, having repeatedly proven your incredible talent (on, for example, the GOAT rap performance of the ’00s) and still being ignored by the misogynistic rap internet and still having to hustle and grind (“waking from nightmares and not being rich”). It doesn’t make Shawnna sound tired, though - it just magnifies the comic book villainness characters she takes on, slithering her way through the beat with laser focus, still confident in her ability to kill her rivals, resigned to her destiny in doing just that: “Fucked with the game, now I married the prick.”
Que, “OG Bobby Johnson”
When the DJ dropped this before Future’s debut London show a couple of weeks ago, the entire venue went nuts: like “Bugatti” or “Versace” last year, it’s one of those songs from an unknown or undistinguished name that feels like it’s taken on a life of its own through sheer force of charisma, despite ostensibly sounding exactly like a thousand other mixtape trap cuts. Que really sells it, from the POW! attention-seizing opening lyric to the half-barked, half-muttered title to the flashes of emotion in lines like “Free my niggas locked behind bars”; he performs as though there’s a lot at stake, and those lines reveal what it is.
Big Von ft. Keak Da Sneak, The Jacka & Mickey Shiloh, “Windows”
Big Von’s stuttery growl, like E-40 with a sore throat, is the perfect foil for that beat. And yassss when it goes all Latin freestyle.
Annie ft. Bjarne Melgaard, “Russian Kiss”
I really appreciate how Annie brought out the bassiest, hardest dance track she’s ever done in service of a well-executed and timely protest video.
Ondo Fudd, Coup d’État EP
The switch-up to Kompakty prettiness and bird noises midway through “There Will Be A Time” is next-level. Techno with so many little details to get lost in.
Lord Of The Isles, 301c Symphony EP, Kurve EP
Epic, beautiful techno - the string-drenched climax of the full-length version of “CO2O” on 301c Symphony goes on for what feels like forever, in the best way.
Toni Braxton & Babyface, Love, Marriage & Divorce
Kassem Mosse, Workshop 19
Neneh Cherry, Blank Project
ALBUMS: LIKE VERY MUCH
Katy B, Little Red
DJ Q, Ineffable
Hauschka, Abandoned City
Schoolboy Q, Oxymoron
Algebra Blessett, Recovery
K. Michelle, Still No Fucks Given
Todd Terje, It’s Album Time
v/a, Acid Arab Collections
ALBUMS: ADMIRE, WILL NEVER LISTEN
Untold, Black Light Spiral
ALBUMS: HAVE THEIR MOMENTS, BUT DISAPPOINTING
Angel Haze, Dirty Gold
Fatima Al Qadiri, Asiatisch
ALBUMS: HATE, PLEASE GO AWAY
Pharrell Williams, G I R L
St. Vincent, St. Vincent
Planningtorock, All Love’s Legal