The premier pop star on the planet collides with a host of indie darlings and producers on Born This Way - The Remix. Is it an attempt by Lady Gaga to grab some alt. cred or is she just embracing the lesser known acts she loves and wants to shine a light on? Well, I don’t know, you’d have to ask her, but it’s difficult to imagine Ms Germanotta bopping away to The Horrors or Wild Beasts (before going on stage to shoot fireworks from her bosom (or whatever her stage show consists of now)
Also, a quick question; why do remixes always seems to last double the original track’s length and turn the most harmless pop songs into dull club fodder? On …The Remix, only three tracks clock in at under four minutes, with eight others lasting past five. Zedd's rework of "Born This Way" stretches out and outstays its welcome, going from thrilling to bland after three minutes, whilst Foster The People take a shot at making "The Edge Of Glory" a euphoric monster, but retain none of the camp fun of the original.
But it’s not all monotonous beats. R&B blog idol The Weeknd is the man charged with the task of reworking Gaga’s newest single "Marry The Night", and succeeds fairly well in putting his own stamp on the song; throwing in damn fine beat and dreampop synths, before dropping everything for a second half made up of moody piano. Goldfrapp's take on "Judas" is banger, pitchshifting Gaga’s vocal resulting in something that sounds a little like Hercules & Love Affair, only superb. Metronomy's "Yoü and I" remix is far removed from the MOR original, stripping it to the bare, almost ambient bones and is possibly this writer’s remix of the year (it also far outstrips Wild Beasts’ attempt, which isn’t bad but has nothing on Metronomy’s version).
Rounding out the British indie contingent are The Horrors, Hurts and Two Door Cinema Club. The former’s version of "Bloody Mary" is as you’d expect; slow-burning krautrock synths to make The Radiophonic Workshop proud, whereas Manc duo Hurts go a bit dubstep for their “Judas” remix but retain their trademark synthy bombast. Two Door Cinema Club’s remix of "Electric Chapel" is fairly routine, bouncing along with a nice groove that may point to an electronic sound for their second album. The final fifth of the record, made up of Twin Shadow's “Born This Way”, Royksopp's ten minute version of Judas and The Edge Of Glory remixed Sultan & Ned Shepard, makes for a fun close to the record. Twin Shadow’s mix sounds almost like classic era Michael Jackson with one hell of a funky bassline and a pure honest pop nous that’s all but disappeared from the charts, Sultan and Shepard channel Daft Punk to good effect for their track whilst Royksopp present us with a near unrecognisable ten minutes of icy Scandanavian beats.
The rest of the record is fairly dull and predictable save for a few tracks; "Scheiße", "Americano" and "Black Jesus + Amen Fashion" are your typical euphoric club tunes that never seem to get played in clubs. You begin to think they’re only included for mainstream radio airplay or to lure in those who prefer their dance music dumber that a Transformers movie.
Born This Way - The Remix is one of the better remix albums to be associated with a top level popstar and it helps that Gaga (or her label) has been fairly eclectic in her choice of remixers. God knows no one wants a Skrillex or James Blake remix anywhere near Gaga. The fact that her songs can be moulded and morphed into pretty much any shape is a sign that Lady Gaga is here to stay.
1) Drake - Take Care
Much hyped, much rated and much hated; Drake has made the best RnB since Justified. If you file Drake under the ‘lame ass rapper’ heading there is a call to say you’d be right. As a rapper he isn’t the greatest of all time but he doesn’t confess to be. It can be easy to criticise his #hashtag flow or his ‘first world problem’ lyrics. But you have to see past that. Drake works because all of these combine with near perfect production, clever melodies and a nice guy image that makes him one of the best in hip hop right now. His partnership with ‘40’ has a lot to do with his success but surely that doesnt really matter when you’re writing songs like "Underground Kings" and "Marvin’s Room".
2) James Blake - James Blake
Call it what you like but the sound that James Blake has created for himself has pretty much defined what 2011 has been in terms of music. The xx might have gotten the minimalist ball rolling but James Blake has moved it forward to the dance floor. The tenderness in Blake’s vocals is completely juxtaposed by the heavy bass on tracks like "Limit To Your Love" but it just works. This record is the perfect collision of classic song writing and alternative dance music. Whilst his latest work has been very piano heavy, here it is used in all the right places and creates another world for the listener; one they never want to leave.
3) Gil Scott-Heron vs. Jamie xx - We’re New Here
Gil Scott-Heron's 2010 album “I'm New Here” was his best release in over 30 years and proved to everybody that he is still the more relevant to street culture than most of the Billboard Hot 100. This remix album is much more than just that. It cuts and pastes the best parts of Gil Scott's career which spans almost 50 years. The album not only proves again how important Gil Scott-Heron, who passed away in May, was but also how exceptionally good a producer Jamie xx is. His reworks of Florence + The Machine and Adele were but a show piece for what is the most consistent, well written remix album in years. It is so well produced that it feels like a new album. There is no ‘fingers-in-the-air’ club songs like Gaga’s recent effort; it is too well thought out for that. The production is so good in fact that it attracted the attention of Drake who samples "I’ll Take Care of U" in his sophomore album’s title track. "We’re New Here" is a remix album for music lovers.
4) EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints
A lot of people wont ‘get’ this album. It’s distorted acoustic guitars and lo fi production arent for everybody. But if you can find a way into EMA there is no going back. The barebones approach to this record is truly beautiful. Songs like "Marked" are the reason the world needs EMA. Her voice sounds damaged and so does the music. The best way to describe this record is to imagine if Bon Iver (circa 2009) and Josh Homme merged together and into female form and were left in the desert with nothing but a guitar and an old microphone.
5) Jay Z & Kanye West - Watch the Throne
it is worth mentioning at this point that none of this years albums, as brilliant as they are, come close to Yeezy's 2010 album "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy". It was a deranged, magical circus of hip-hop’s greats. it is for this reason that Watch the Throne was disappointing. When the decade’s best producer and the best rapper alive collide it should be a match made in heaven. In many ways it is. Watch the Throne’s songs are excellent and both rappers, particularly Kanye, are on top of their game. It is a return to form for Jigga, who’s last album fell flat of his previous work. The only thing that stops this album from being the best album of this year (it is definitely a classic and will probably date better than anything else on the list) is that the songs dont fit together as well as they could. A good album has to feel like an album, that same way The Black Album or MBDTF does. A perfect album can only be played from start to finish with no exceptions; somewhere WTT falls short.
6) The Weeknd - House of Ballons/Thursday
If you could go back to 2010 and ask who The Weeknd was do you know what people would say? Nothing. The Canadian singer’s stunning rise to fame is mind blowing. Not only was his first, free mixtape nominated for the Solaris Prize but he co-wrote and features on 4 of the songs on Drake’s new album Take Care. In the sleeve notes of Take Care, Drake thanks The Weeknd and the rest of the XO Gang for being there and that without them he could not have made the album he wanted to. There is so little you can say about The Weeknd’s music without hearing it for yourself. If James Blake opened 2011 to an R’n’B sound, then The Weeknd has closed it. The third mixtape in the trilogy, Echoes Of Silence, is still shrouded in mystery but will drop before the year is out. After that, The Weeknd really doesn’t have to do anything to be considered a great. But let’s pray that he will.
7) Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Nobody really saw Bon Iver's return coming. He could have remained solo; a man and a guitar writing melancholic songs about a past love that every teenage boy and girl could relate to. By returning with a full band there was a great chance to attack Bon Iver. But the self titled sophomore record is even better than the first. There is an undeniable beauty in For Emma, Forever Ago but in 2011it can feel slow. "Bon Iver" is an album that takes the ideas from that first album and injects colour into them. This album doesn’t sound like it was recorded by the same man. But dont worry, you can still cry to it.
8) Frank Ocean - Nostalgia, Ultra
Frank Ocean isn’t Odd Future. If you are one of the closed minded fools that dismiss any of the group’s affiliates as young skate rats that disrespect women then you are missing out on one of the most exciting new talents of the year. Not only is his sound different but the melodies Frank Ocean creates are some of the greatest you will hear. The same way The Weeknd released a mix tape and suddenly became the most sought out artist in the game, so did Frank Ocean. The two’s path this year can be paralleled easily. Both released R’n’B influenced mixtapes to critical acclaim, both have written songs for other artists and both ended up singing hooks on the two biggest hip hop releases of the year. Frank Ocean is less pretentious than The Weeknd but is no less talented. Nostalgia, Ultra is a fun, intelligent and seductive record that will make you fall instantly for Frank Ocean and never look back.
9) Tyler, The Creator - Goblin
You were probably shacked up in a log cabin somewhere watching old repeats of Top Gear if you haven’t heard of Tyler, The Creator. The biggest breakthrough of the year has everyone watching him - not everyone positively. No matter what you think of Tyler off the mic there is no denying his skill with producing and painting lyrical pictures. Goblin isn’t as filthy as Bastard but the progression of Tyler in the time between is clear. The production is more varied and the subjects broadened. The album isn’t the classic it was hyped to be but Tyler is growing with every release and next year’s Wolf should be what we’ve been waiting for.
10) Arctic Monkeys - Suck it And See
The only people that seem to not like the Arctics are people who dismissed their first record as lad rock and moved on. Through by-passing the 3 albums since, they missed out. Suck it And See is arguably the most consistent of the band’s records since their debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, but in every other way it is basically incomparable. They’ve moved on, further towards Queens Of The Stone age territory but it’s not bad thing. The title track is excellent and the moments where the band let themselves slip into heavy mode are some of the greatest. If they do split up as the rumours have been saying, after this album then it confirms their place in indie heaven. What ever happens the Arctic Monkeys will be remembered as, probably, the most important British band of the 2000s.
30. GIRLS - FATHER, SON, HOLY GHOST
29. NOEL GALLAGHER - NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS
28. KURT VILE - SMOKE RING FOR MY HALO
27. GIL SCOTT-HERON & JAMIE XX - WE’RE NEW HERE
26. M83 - HURRY UP, WE’RE DREAMING
25. YOUTH LAGOON - THE YEAR OF HIBERNATION
24. NICOLAS JAAR - SPACE IS ONLY NOISE
23. FRIENDLY FIRES - PALA
22. JOHNNY FOREIGNER - JOHNNY FOREIGNER VS EVERYTHING
21. THE WEEKND - HOUSE OF BALLOONS/THURSDAY
Another eclectic selection from you, our Hitsville readers. Several stunning debut records included in this section of the list; Jamie xx’s euphoric reworking of the late Gil-Scott Heron, Nicolas Jaar’s weird and eerie ambient electronica, Youth Lagoon’s heartbreaking Year Of Hibernation and the double trouble of The Weeknd’s Thursday and House Of Balloons (included here as one entry, for convenience) are all amazing albums deserved of the praise and our votes. You clearly warmed to Johnny Foreigner’s third LP “…Vs Everything” despite the shockingly poor NME review, as well as M83’s divisive double album. Also, we can’t leave out poor Noel Gallagher, who proved himself the talented brother (like it was ever in doubt) with a fine solo debut.
It’s over. We can no longer keep posting filler “end of year” lists. It’s back to real blogging now…
The Hitsville Albums Of 2011 List, as voted for by you, in full:
- Arctic Monkeys - Suck It And See
- Laura Marling - A Creature I Don’t Know
- Bon Iver - Bon Iver
- The Horrors - Skying
- Wu Lyf - Go Tell Fire To The Mountain
- Jay-Z & Kanye West - Watch The Throne
- SBTRKT - SBTRKT
- Metronomy - The English Riviera
- Wild Beasts - Smother
- Tyler, The Creator - Goblin
- Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness
- Bombay Bicycle Club - A Different Kind Of Fix
- The Chapman Family - Burn Your Town
- PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
- James Blake - James Blake
- Nicola Roberts - Cinderella’s Eyes
- Slow Club - Paradise
- Mastodon - The Hunter
- Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys!
- Drake - Take Care
- The Weeknd - House Of Balloons/Thursday
- Johnny Foreigner - Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything
- Friendly Fires - Pala
- Nicolas Jaar - Space Is Only Noise
- Youth Lagoon - The Year Of Hibernation
- M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
- Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx - We’re New Here
- Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo
- Noel Gallagher - Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
- Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost
- Lil B - I’m Gay (I’m Happy)
- Radiohead - The King Of Limbs
- Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto
- Terius Nash - 1977
- The Antlers - Burst Apart
- Yuck - Yuck
- Shabazz Palaces - Black Up
- The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar
- The Vaccines - What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?
- Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat - Everything’s Getting Older
- Battles - Gloss Drop
- Tom Waits - Bad As Me
- Real Estate - Days
- Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde
- Noah And The Whale - Last Night On Earth
- Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
- St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
- Childish Gambino - Camp
- Death Grips - Exmilitary
- Patrick Wolf - Lupercalia
There you have it, your fifty albums of the year. Pretty eclectic bunch aren’t you? Some superb picks alongside some, well, not so superb picks. At least Lulu wasn’t in there…
Artist: The WeekndSong: EnemyPlays: 1,659
Possibly sorta cheesy title of the day: That right there is the title (and possible artwork?) for The Weeknd’s first album proper, following up his mixtape trilogy of 2011/2012. No word on when it’ll be ready, but are we the only ones thinking Kiss Land might be a bit too, well, rubbish of a title? It just sounds so naff, especially when you consider the sex-jam status of most of Abel Tesfaye’s oeuvre. Oh well.
Now, we’ve all see how memetic Drake’s tendency to be emotional has become. It’s a rich mine of comedy for the internet population; such honest feelings at odds with the macho bravado we’ve come to expect from rap over the years. But the crucial point is that it doesn’t take much, if anything, away from Drizzy’s music; when on form, whether emotional or not, he’s still enjoyable to listen to.
The same can not be said of compatriot and collaborator Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd. Tesfaye’s been a big property in music since his Trilogy mixtapes in 2011 became the standard bearer of alternative R&B, along with Frank Ocean; their less brash, more open take on the genre’s typical themes and tropes providing a breath of fresh air from more chart-focused offerings from bigger artists. Kiss Land represents The Weeknd’s debut album proper, signed to a major label, making music in a studio instead of a bedroom, a chance at being a proper pop star.
With that in mind, Tesfaye probably should have spent a little more time on the music itself, instead of leading the opulent but utterly dull life he sings of throughtout Kiss Land; this life of drugs, sex, money, women and touring doesn’t seem to be doing much for his mood. Cheer up, dude, or at least create some music that’s upbeat for christ’s sake; countless artists have gone throught this rich-but-disaffected phase before, yet produced stone-cold classics which have some life or verve in their musical veins (Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy being the most recent example). But not our narrator through Kiss Land, oh no. In the run-up to its release, Tesfaye talked up the album as a “horror movie” inspired by the likes of Ridley Scott, David Cronenberg John Carpenter …to be quite honest, it’s more like sitting through a particularly painful Lars Von Trier opus; tedious, monotonous, lowkey misogynistic, and requiring a lot of downtime between re-experiencing it for a second time.
Five, six, hell, even seven minutes of plodding beats, coupled with Tesfaye’s Michael Jackson-lite crooning doesn’t make for a fun experience, especially when the subject matter is so uninspired. Ignoring Robin Thicke (as every sane person should), I’m having trouble remembering any artist who displayed such a disdain for women under the premise of putting them "on a throne"; take this verse from Belong To The World: "I know I should leave you/And learn to mistreat you/Cause you belong to the world/And ooh girl, I want to embrace you/Domesticate you/But you belong to the world", or perhaps this excerpt from "Love In The Sky: "But I’m sure I’ll make you cum/Two or three times in a row/But I’m sure you would have left/Got that pussy in control/Put that pussy in control" …fuck’s sake man. Women aren’t objects or to be domesticated! They’re not things! There’s no need to treat them that way, in your lyrics or real life, just because you can’t get it up or give them what they want. Okay, R&B and rap are genres littered with woman-hating, misogynistic artists and more use of the word bitch than you’d hear at a dog pound, but The Weeknd takes it to some ridiculous level where you have to question how on earth he’s ended up with such a twisted view of half the population of the planet.
Anyway stepping away from gender politics for a brief second, Kiss Land is not a good album. The production is flat and beige, the hooks are mostly nowhere to be found, nine of the ten tracks could and should have been halved in length, in fact only two of the tracks are worth more than one listen. “Belong To The World” samples Portishead’s excellent and incendiary “Machine Gun”, so as to make its terrible lyrical content somewhat palatable, whilst Drake arrives at the party on “Live For”, and he must have spiked the punch or something because it’s lively and has pace, an actual, memorable chorus and a decent verse from Drizzy; naturally its the undisputed high point of a dire collection of songs.
In summation, no one let Abel Tesfaye near a studio unless he’s got Aubrey graham with some lyrics and beats he’s written nearby. For the sake of my ears, and yours.