Wolf Parade, Das Racist, Crystal Castles: The Top Songs of the Week
“Not in Love ft. Robert Smith,” Crystal Castles.
The Cure have been relegated to the background in the last few years, even though their dark pop stylings can be traced through 2010 from witch-house to the impassioned vocals of Future Islands. The original “Not in Love” appears on Crystal Castles with the vocal track buried beneath effects and buzzing synthesizers. So it’s a surprise — and also not a surprise at all — to hear Robert Smith turn “Not in Love” into a much more interesting song by virtue of his voice.
Where the original favored electronic effects, Smith’s vocals are clear and melodic, managing to stay just above the beehive of distortion that swirls beneath the chorus. It’s compelling, to say the least — the screaming cacophony becoming the rejected lover and nearly erasing the melody and the logic of the song, while Smith struggles to hold it together, pleading overtop it all that he’s not in love. Despite the noise, Smith never loses control. It’s an understated accomplishment when working with Crystal Castles, a band that often capitulates to its ex-lovers, which is to say overblown 8-bit synths and screwed, screaming vocals. Smith, in this special case, seems to be the cure.
“You Oughta Know,” Das Racist.
When I first heard “You Oughta Know” I was blown-away by the gibberish, rhythmic syllables Das Racist throw into the chorus, almost as though the band was operating on a creative wave-length somewhere beyond language. A place that few successfully go (Dadaism? Sigur Ros?) but in the end somewhere that Das Racist hadn’t in fact truly stumbled upon independently. It turns out that the Billy Joel sample “Movin’ Out” — the foundation for the song’s upbeat, bouncy quality — did it first. The effect is used beautifully throughout Joel’s entire song but probably best demonstrated in the last verse when the whole band sings, “A Cadillac ack ack ack ack ack.” Joel seems to use the sound effect mostly to change the rhythm and perhaps to point to the way money can drive you crazy-zy-zy-zy.
But as one of the most out-spoken hip-hop groups around today, having taken a special liking to the blogosphere debate (most famously challenging the New Yorker’s Sasha Frere-Jones on black influences in white indie music), Das Racist use the syllables to easily capture the tendency for online debate to turn into almost unreadable slurs, rants, and trolling. Words, in any case, that have lost meaning. Das Racist are “sick of arguing with white dudes on the internet” and this is their response. By the end of the song the entire chorus has turned to gibberish and the debate is effectively turned to mush. It can be hard to tell if the band is reminding themselves to not argue with the inane YouTube commentators or mocking those who ask them to stay out of the debate. Either way, it’s a fun song that captures (in 2:56, no less) what it means today to engage in online dialogue — the inevitable slide to meaninglessness.
“Pobody’s Nerfect,” Wolf Parade.
Expo 86 is a simple album. “Pobody’s Nerfect” is a simple song. The song never really slows down. It’s why the chorus has Dan Boeckner singing at the top of his lungs, “And I just don’t know how to stop it at all.” It, I assume, is the momentum of the up-and-down guitar riff, the continuously crashing cymbals, Spencer Krug’s twinkling piano. Momentum exists in the lyrics too, as they trace out the path of the sun from its rise in the first verse to Boeckner’s plea in the last to kill the lights (at night) for slow dancing.
The song is built for the cyclical rise-and-fall, the chorus exploding as it does with cymbal crashes and bright, distorted guitar, the verse holding a tension, like dawn, that is just a few palm-muted guitar strokes away from bursting into another sun-rise of a chorus. It’s quotidian. It’s simple. Songs this good, however, are anything but everyday.