Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Forbidden Fruit / TUN3R's Top 10 Pop Hooks in Rotation for 2010

There are two themes I have been contemplating over 2010. The first is Internet Radio as "The Forbidden Fruit" of music. The second is not so much about radio but rather how music has changed over the past 10 years.

First, what do I mean by "Forbidden Fruit"? For example, if you listen to a decent Internet radio station with a focus on contemporary music (e.g. pop or techno), you will likely be exposed to songs that aren't yet making the rounds on other music distribution platforms (e.g. FM radio, satellite, Pandora, Last.FM, iTunes, etc.). The reasons for this is are due to the legal logistics required to secure the distribution of remixes as well as international restrictions. Because of the nature of live streaming Internet radio, it's regulated differently. Terrestrial and and satellite radio are more tightly regulated, and custom radio (e.g. Pandora and Last.FM) is entirely driven off of a centrally vetted catalog. Furthermore, it's often the case that I'll hear a cool song or remix I like and it's not even available on iTunes; even niche music retailers like BeatPort and MasterBeat won't have the mix you're looking for or it's not available in your region (and they can't have all the DJ remixes). You'd even be hard pressed to find many of these remixes through illegal download services. So, if you're if your one of those girls or guys that takes pride in "being into it before it was cool" (and who isn't?), live streaming Internet radio stations are the way to go. This is why I steadfastly maintain, Internet radio is the bearer of Forbidden Fruit, and why it holds such a great appeal to me.

The second theme that has been bouncing around my head this year is the question "How has music fundamentally changed since 2000?" If we look back to earlier decades (and I suppose part of the problem is we don't yet have an historical perspective of the present), it is fairly easy to see what has changed. If we compare music from 1960 to 1970 it is easy to point out what changed (Prog rock was born). In the seventies we saw the evolution of Prog Rock, the emergence of Disco, Heavy Metal, and Punk, and even the beginnings of electronic music and post-punk new wave. The eighties saw the maturation of New Wave, the rise of Rap and Hip Hop, and the evolution of Metal into sub-genres like Thrash and Industrial, and the reinvention of Disco as Techno, and in the underground, the nascent beginning of grunge. The first half of the nineties was mostly defined by grunge music, but other genres such as Industrial grew legs. The second half of the decade was dominated by hip hop, but a new alt-pop was growing in popularity. Alternative no longer holds meaning as a genre, and has really just morphed into the default genre for people who collect music (I've only met two persons who meticulously collected Top 40 music). Hip Hop and R&B have more or less converged. Prog Rock seems to have made a comeback, insofar that we're seeing a lot more musical instruments than the standard 3 piece ensemble. And, a focus on celebrity culture and singing competitions has from what I can tell amounted to a large and sapping distraction from anything we would normally associate with creative song writing. Yes, at a macro level, the past 10 years has seen change. However, there are so many songs I hear now where I'm asking myself "Would this song be possible ten years ago?". When the answer is "Maybe, but not quite" this for me is a more interesting way of examining the changes that have occurred over the past 10 years.

Enough rambling. Here are the Top 10 Pop Hooks of 2010 as per TUN3R's opinion:

Ten: We No Speak Americano (Yolanda Be Cool, DCUP).
I consider this to be the "Mambo #5" of 2010. It's immediately catchy and annoying all at the same time. What's most surprising is that it's not yet being used for a television commercial (at least not any I've seen). I could imagine it being put to good use selling the new Fiat 500 in North America.

Nine: Dynamite (Taoi Cruz). I overheard my kids singing this a few times already. I've heard a number of other young children singing this too. A family Pop Hook is a primal Pop Hook. I just wish it didn't have to be so cheezy sounding. This could have been a better song. I imagine there's a better song hidden in a downstream remix.

Eight: Amazing / Hot (Inna). Amazing and Hot both sound like the exact same song to me (I think there's a guy singing in Hot though). It goes to show the challenge of writing a decent Pop Hook. Instead of writing a brand new song, sometimes it makes sense to just tweak the one you've got and re-release it. I actually welcome this in the case of Amazing and/or Hot. I'll be surprised if Inna can top this, but given her, ahem, marketability, perhaps we'll be pleasantly surprised.

Seven: Rocket (Goldfrapp).
This is one of the songs that has got me wondering what has changed in the past ten years. Rocket sounds like a song taken right out of the late 70s, early 80s disco period. It reminds me of "Bette Davis Eyes" or "Total Eclipse of the Heart". I wonder, is this a progression of music or a rehash of older music. It's really hard for me to tell with this one.

Six: Feel it in my Bones (Tegan & Sara, Tiesto).
I'm glad to see Tegan and Sara have made peace with techno music. Not only have they collaborated with Tiesto, but they also released a remixed version of Alligator with Morgan Page. I first saw Tegan & Sara during a living recording of Open Mike with Mike Bullard back in 2000. It was immediately apparent that these twins from Calgary had some intense melodic-mind-meld thing going on and everyone in the audience was quite taken aback. Bullard himself, appearing stunned, told the audience off-camera that he'd never seen an act like Tegan & Sara before. I'm not surprised they've resisted techno remixes for so long. Their music comes across as obstinate and angry. Their melodies and lyrics have an intensity that is unique. I doubt Tegan & Sara have peaked and look forward to seeing what they come up with next.

Five: Sweet Disposition [Axwell & Dirty South remix] (Temper Trap).
The original version of this song never made any impact on me and is barely recognizable after you've first heard the Axwell & Dirty South remix. The odd thing about this song is I can't find it for sale anywhere. Especially weird given that this remix has spawned a whole bunch of remixes all of its own. This piece of Forbidden Fruit is tasty.

Four: 17 (Aquapura).
This is another song I struggle to understand if it could have been written in 1998. I think it could have, but have my doubts. Could it have been on Daft Punk's Homework, Air's Moon Safari, or Moby's Play? None of those albums could have existed in 1988. If you can answer that question then you've got a good grasp of how music has or hasn't changed over the past 10 years.

Three: Hello (Martin Solveig).
There's something I like about a blasé sounding woman sing. You can really hear the unique imperfections of the voice - personality shines through. Another good song in this same vein that just came out this year is Teenage Crime by Adrian Lux. But you can only get away with this singing style if you've got a killer pop hook to hang your vocals on.

Two: Excuses (Morning Benders).
I saw these guys open for the Black Keys in August and found myself wishing they could play the entire show (no offense Black Keys). There is something very genuine feeling about The Morning Benders that resonates with me. There are elements of Morning Benders' songs that remind me of all the great Pop Hookers: The Beatles; Beach Boys; and The Pixies. They've got talent and will go far.

One: Nothin' on You (B.o.B. feat. Bruno Mars).
My buddy Aaron introduced this song to me and I was immediately blown away. All pistons are firing here: familiar melody; lyrics that grab you; and both technically superior vocals dueling with imperfect and recognizable vocals. I can't imagine ever growing sick of this song.

We look boldly towards the next decade of music.

Stay TUN3D...