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The Top Five Songs of 2013: Neeharika’s List

23 Dec

With about a week to go before the end of the year, 2013 is being hailed by critics across the board as a good year for music. We saw the emergence of new, promising artists like Haim and Lorde, and saw great followups by established acts such as Arctic Monkeys and Daft Punk. My Bloody Valentine made a reappearance twenty-two years (!) after their previous album, while Kanye West released a mad-hatter album whose hype rivals, if not exceeds, that which surrounded his blockbuster from 2010. Chance the Rapper and Earl Sweatshirt, too, released important rap albums. All in all, it was a good year for music. Here’s my take on the top five songs of the year. Hope you like it!

– Neeharika

5. “The Wire” by Haim

Haim

There are a handful of songs in the world where all the elements – the music, the lyrics, the style and the influences – sync perfectly and irrefutably together. These songs are very, very few and far between, and are invariably propelled to ‘instant classic’ status. It can be said, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that “The Wire” is one of these songs.

Haim, a trio of sisters from sunny California, has been making all the right kind of headlines since their debut Days are Gone released in September. Even though they have been compared to everyone from Fleetwood Mac to the Dixie Chicks, Haim has an unshakeable foundation which lets them use their influences as flavoring rather than as the main ingredient. However you look at it, Haim is one of the most attractive and truly talented bands out there today.

“The Wire”, a confessional about wisely letting go of a failing relationship, is an irresistibly catchy example of Haim’s allure. Existing in a universe where The Bangles open for Madonna (or maybe the other way around), “The Wire” is one of the best songs of the year and perhaps one that 2013 will be remembered for, well into the future.

View our full album review here.

4. “Right Action” by Franz Ferdinand

In early 2004, a Scottish indie rock band released an eponymous debut album, smartly titled after a European archduke who catalysed one of history’s largest events. Fittingly, the album provided a similarly intense shot-in-the-arm for the indie rock world, which had been languishing since The Strokes released their unbeatable debut three years prior.

Franz Ferdinand’s post-punk/steampunk hit “Take Me Out”, which was coupled with a video that showcased the band’s monstrously creative art-school sensibilities, remained the band’s song to beat. Now, almost a decade later, Franz Ferdinand has finally created a true successor to their best-known song – and man, it’s good.

“Right Action” is an almost-love song (“Sometimes I wish you were here, weather permitting”) that paraphrases Buddhist tenets (“Right thoughts, right words, right actions”) over a relentless dance-party riff. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that the song’s a riot and a half. The video, like all Franz Ferdinand videos, is mindblowingly artsy, and the boys are as slick and well-dressed as ever. Alex Kapranos has said that the band’s raison d’etre is to make music that girls can dance to. Franz Ferdinand may be a decade old, but you can bet your skinny tie that they can still own any dance party.

3. “Bad Girls” by M.I.A.

London-via-Sri Lanka swag goddess MIA has always been known for her ridiculous amounts of devil-may-care confidence. But nowhere in her career has she been as swagtastic as in the video for “Bad Girls”. In front of an audience of traditionally-attired Arab men, MIA drag-races – on cars tilted 45 degrees to the vertical – while repeating her feminist, fuck-you mantra: “Live fast, die young, bad girls do it well.”

MIAThe implicit understanding that the video is taking place in Saudi Arabia – where woman drivers, let alone irreverent women atop cars, are forbidden – makes “Bad Girls” one of the rowdiest things that MIA has ever done. The song itself tilts, much like MIA’s cars, between exotic mysticism and gilded braggadocio, and in a way, it’s a metaphor for the artist herself. Whatever the angle, though, it’s just a ridiculously good song.

2. “Royals” by Lorde

Ironically aristocratic teenage sensation Lorde is, ironically, 2013’s It-girl. On “Royals”, her break-out, chart-topping lead single, Lorde sings about her inability to associate with the gaudy extravagance of popular musicians. “We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair,” she asserts, placing herself firmly in the zone of the non-celebrity.

Over a deep-drum, threadbare beat, Lorde eschews the trappings of fame for a more localized aristocracy: “Let me be your ruler, you can call me queen bee,” she says. Ironically, though, this very song catapulted her into immediate pop royalty, charting her over self-indulgent pop mainstays such as Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus. Not bad for a sixteen year old, wouldn’t you say?

View our full album review here.

1. “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk

“Get Lucky” was first released into the world through a 15-second advertisement on Saturday Night Live in early March. The rabid craze that followed that brief snippet foreshadowed the near future: a particularly enthusiastic fan even spun that 15-second sample into an extended 10-hour jam (!).  At that point, the world didn’t even know much about the song – apart from a warm, glittering riff that somehow automatically brought to mind a disco ball. By the time Daft Punk released the song in April though, everyone knew all the words. It was, in mid-spring, already the song of the summer.

“Get Lucky” is musical perfection enveloped in four minutes. It’s the reckless abandon on a disco dance floor. It’s the magic of meeting someone more promising than you’ve met in years. It’s the realization that love keeps the planet spinning, that music rebirths from itself like a phoenix. “Get Lucky” is a gift from a pair of robots to humankind, reminding us of a forgotten truth: that the past is golden and the future holds endless possibilities.

In 2013, musicians around the world made music that impacted some of us in certain ways. In 2013, Daft Punk made a song that could – and should – eventually be sent out of our world into endless space as a symbol of what humankind can achieve… with a little help from robots, of course.

View our full album review here.

So there you have it! Stay tuned for more Top Five lists coming up soon, including our Top Five Albums of 2013!

“ft. Pharrell”: A List of Collaborative Excellence

31 Aug

Pizzle

Rapper. Fashion designer. Songwriter. Producer. Skateboarder. Singer. In the twenty years that the world has known him, Pharrell Williams has worn many a hat – some of them his own design, and all of them at the jauntiest of angles. As part of the Neptunes, Pharrell has produced remarkable music for a remarkable roster of artists: everyone from Daft Punk to Kelis to Britney Spears to Jay-Z owe a part of their success to Skateboard P. The man has gone on to write, sing, produce and collaborate with music’s most talented artists – the list is truly mindboggling.

But never fear. As always, Top Five Records gives you a good place to start. Here’s our list of the top five songs with those moneymaker words in the title: “ft. Pharrell”.

5. “Celebrate”, Mika ft. Pharrell

A stylish duo

A stylish duo

Since his debut with the aptly-titled Life in Cartoon Motion, Brit singer/songwriter Mika has been well-known for his larger-than-life pop songs with delectable happy-go-lucky vibes. Last year’s album The Origin of Love featured one such gem, “Celebrate”, a disco-dance-synthpop anthem that’s just ridiculously upbeat. Pharrell co-wrote the song with Mika and contributed a verse, too. His intuitive sense of arrangement and design, paired with Mika’s joyous, talented voice, makes for a laudable combination. Here’s hoping to more collaborations between the two.

4. “Change Clothes”, Jay Z ft. Pharrell

Jay Z and Pharrell

Hova and Pharrell have quite a history. Mr Williams has had a hand in every Jay Z album (with the exception of The Blueprint) since 2000’s The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, including this year’s Magna Carta… Holy Grail. Our favorite collab between the two geniuses (genii?) is 2003’s “Change Clothes”, off of the iconic Black Album. Everything on the track just works: from that indubitable Neptunes bounce to Jay’s unmistakable cool. We find it only fitting that the refrain in the video shows Pharrell flanked by fawning models at a fashion show: it’s just that slick.

3. “Give It Up”, Twista ft. Pharrell

Twista is one of the most underrated rappers in the game today. There haven’t been as many bright spots in his career as there should have been, but one of the brightest and most colourful is definitely his collaboration with Pharrell on 2007’s “Give It Up”. The video is somewhere between 1950s airline commercial and a Tetris game, full of solid colors and candy boxes and pin-up girls: classic Hype Williams. Pharrell and Twista seem to have a lot of fun in the song, listing out all the kinds of girls who “wanna give it up” for them – black, white, Spanish, Middle Eastern, you name it. We have a slinky feeling that the song just wouldn’t have been as great without Pharrell’s presence.

2. “Get Lucky”, Daft Punk ft. Pharrell

All around the world this year, for the entire summer, critics and fans have been fawning over this phenomenal song. Music this groovy has not been made since the disco fever; it’s funny that it took a couple of French robots to bring it all back. Between Nile Rodgers’ shimmery fretting and Pharrell’s infectious chorus, it’s no wonder that “Get Lucky” is THE song of the summer. The song’s rabid success is anything but luck, though – Pharrell and Rodgers collaborating with Daft Punk is just that electric a combination.

1. “Drop It Like It’s Hot”, Snoop Dogg ft. Pharrell

cool cats

cool cats

“I got the Rolly on my arm and I’m pouring Chandon/ I got the best weed ‘cause I got it going on,” claims Snoop in the opening lines of this track, and you know he isn’t lying. Big boasts populate the track that coasts atop one of the slickest Neptunes beats ever – composed entirely of tongue clicks. The track really showcases why there will never be anyone as stylish in the game as Snoop Dogg. The black and white composition of the track’s brilliant video perfectly suits the Neptunes’ minimalistic style. “Think before you fuck with lil Skateboard P,” warns Pharrell in one verse, and he’s right. There’s really no one quite like him.

Honorable mention:

“Blurred Lines”, Robin Thicke ft. Pharrell and TI

In 2013, Pharrell Williams became only the 12th artist in the history to hold both the #1 and #2 positions on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at the same time, pairing the ubiquitous “Get Lucky” with the equally omnipresent “Blurred Lines”. In the well-received music video, Robin Thicke, Pharrell, TI and three young models flirt in front of a simple peach-coloured wall, soundtracked to a Marvin Gaye-meets-Prince romp that will definitely get you dancing. It’s suave, swaggering, and an absolute riot. What’s not to love?

Agree with our list? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below!

Daft Punk: Random Access Memories

14 Aug

In the late 90s, two Frenchmen released a landmark debut album that forced the world to reconsider its current taste in dance music. This album was followed in 2001 by an even more historic album that, once again, forced the world to reconsider. Ensconced invariably in metallic helmets and a coolness that doesn’t quit, Daft Punk have made it their job to redefine things for a world that is far behind the curve. What happens, then, when they choose to delve in the past rather than look towards the future?

Brilliance.

Random Access Memories

In May 2013, Daft Punk built a futuristic discotheque in space called Random Access Memories, and they’re inviting everyone to their party – not just the cool kids. Old-time artists sessions (Paul Jackson Jr., JR Robinson et al) form an intoxicating mesh of disco-jazz, while dreadlocked funk icon Nile Rodgers frets his way through the fabric of their material. Hip-hop/R&B superstar Pharell Williams croons in the foreground and Panda Bear is at the back selling acid tabs. And at the very middle of all this commotion are two robots, trying their very best to make music like they’re humans from the 70s.

Before RAM released, Daft Punk recorded disco king Giorgio Moroder talking them through his rise to fame. Eventually, they chose to include one snippet, heard on “Giorgio by Moroder”, about his involvement in the birth of disco music. “I wanted to make a record with the sounds of the 50s, the 60s, the 70s,” explains Giorgio in his clipped German accent, “And then have a sound of the future.” This is the defining sentence, the centerpiece and the crux of Daft Punk’s effort in this album. What Daft Punk tries to do on this album is what Giorgio tried to do all those years ago.

Giorgio Morodor on the cover of his '77 album From Here to Eternity

Giorgio Morodor on the cover of his ’77 album From Here to Eternity

But an ideological centerpiece is not all that RAM has. EDM (which, by the way, Giorgio Moroder basically invented in ‘77) in its modern form caters to humankind’s strange desire to sound more machine-like. But Daft Punk has, as usual, taken this idea one step forward. Random Access Memories is a story about humans that became robots and are trying to remember what it’s like to be human again. The robots try to access their half-forgotten human side through their random access memories. Get it?

The story starts off, in my opinion, right before Giorgio Moroder gives Daft Punk his clue of combining the past with the future. On “Lose Yourself to Dance” (a directive that really does result in full-body grooving) , we meet Pharell Williams at his absolute soul-funk best, in a jam with Nile Rodgers, who’s belting out the tightest disco riffs this side of the 70s. They create magic again on the spectacular first single “Get Lucky” which would be an honest-to-God hit in disco’s heyday. On both tracks, the Parisian androids are tinkering quietly in the background.

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After Giorgio’s monologue, a few things change in the story. Album opener “Give Life Back to Music” is their distilled learning from Mr. Moroder: in order to create the future, revive the past. Pharell leaves, the vocoder enters, and Nile Rodgers continues to provide the funkadelic backbone. “Let the music of your life/ Give life back to music,” they implore, and you’re inclined to agree.

Pretty soon, though, the robot takes over the human. “The Game of Love” is about a robot emoting, almost like a human, about heartbreak and eventual acceptance, and on “Within”, the robot is slowly starting to lose touch with its human side completely. “There are so many things that I don’t understand/ There’s a world within me that I cannot explain,” laments a vocoder-edged automaton, amidst slinky piano and theatrical flourishes.

Thomas Bangalter (L), Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (R)

Thomas Bangalter (L), Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (R)

The storyline (and album) finds dead center on “Touch”, a magnificent magnum opus featuring the old-world folk voice of Paul Williams. The robot, expressing itself through Williams, asks how to relate its computerized memory of touch to the human feeling of touch; and after a full-blown blissful horn and gospel section, the robot realizes the answer is (of course) love. After this life-altering moment (“Sweet touch/ you’ve almost convinced me I’m real”), Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories comes full circle: about humans that slowly became robots, and are slowly turning back into humans. It will send shivers down your spine, I promise you.

Why aren’t the songs in chronological order? Because that’s not how our (human) brains work. Memories are distorted, rearranged and accessed (yes, randomly) by our brain; Daft Punk is trying to mimic that very phenomenon. The album title is really very clever, non?

Daft Punk makes music that foils critical analysis. They want to play 70s disco in their spaceship from the year 4000, because they think it would be a fun thing to do: and that’s their only reason. They are able to distill their playfulness and whimsy into a structured, inspired album – without becoming self-indulgent – and therein exists their greatness. Towards the end of “Giorgio by Moroder”, Giorgio leaves one final observation in the listener’s mind. “Once you free your mind about a concept of harmony and music being correct, you can do whatever you want,” he notes. Daft Punk understand this very well, and on this album, you will, too.

Best Tracks: Get Lucky, Giorgio by Moroder, Lose Yourself to Dance

Bonus:

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