Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Aaron Listens To The Hits

It's a classic meme of the lazy music writer/blogger, listening to the hits so you don't have to. In any case, on this lazy Tuesday afternoon, this unemployed music fan finds himself with anything to do, hoping to pass the hours until he can leave the house and go see the legendarily legendary Sonic Youth tear shit up at First Avenue.

So I've decided to listen to two Top Tens and share my thoughts. The first is culled from Billboard's Hot 100 (half of which you can see here), and largely listened to on YouTube. The second is the Top 10 list on The Hype Machine's "Popular MP3 & Music Blog Tracks" page (available here), representative of what a small and irksome part of America listens to. While elbo.ws' "What's Hot" page is a more accurate snapshot of the tracks being blogged, I have less of an axe to grind with elbo.ws.

So here goes...
Billboard Top 10, Issue Date July 25, 2009

1. Black Eyed Peas, "I Gotta Feeling"
--Just objectionable drivel. The ostensibly summery and inspirational beat sounds impotent. This song captures the zeitgeist of shopping mall background music. While the Black Eyed Peas are incredibly popular, their appeal remains a complete mystery to me. I suspect that, by jacking whatever sounds are currently popular, they manage to sound hip to their fans (kind of like Pauline Kael, I've never met a self-professed Peas fan) but make lightly catchy music inoffensive enought to earn radio play across a variety of formats. Plus, they're obviously willing to prostitute themselves. 1.5/5

2. Drake, "Best I Ever Had"--Drake sure came out of nowhere. He was on a TV show or something, and he's making the transition to pop stardom. "Best I Ever Had" is light fare, but pretty enjoyable. A little R&B jam with emphatic production and a nice chorus that features some soul man with a superior voice and the chant that Polow puts in all his songs. 4/5

3. Black Eyed Peas, "Boom Boom Pow"--The worst thing is, we know will.i.am is capable of so much better. Yet he's content to produce amelodic, midtempo shit like this and watch the money roll in. The claims to credibility in this song are just laughable--the beat isn't "boom boom pow", it simply registers with no impact--and the manufactured catchphrase "I'm so three thousand and eight/You're so two thousand and late" hurts my ears. Are the Peas the most cravenly commercial act of our generation? In any case this song makes me believe every hyperbolic claim ever made about the Culture Industry. America I ask you, when it comes to the Peas, where is the hate? 0/5

4. Keri Hilson feat. Ne-Yo and Kanye West, "Knock You Down"--This one I quite like. The intro has a celebratory vibe, with weightless, insistent synths, and it's cool when the beat drops. Hilson does a good job, though the material doesn't tax her. West's raps are fun if baffling--does Kanye really believe he's the "new Slick Rick"?--and Ne-Yo sounds great as always. 4/5

5. Sean Kingston, "Fire Burning"--A club track by everyone's favorite heavyset West Indian. Not as obviously derivitive as some of Kingston's past work (esp. "Beautiful Girls" and that song that sampled "D'Yer Maker"). More confrontational than anything we've heard thus far in the countup, it could use less melody, fatter synths, more rhythm. I hope the breakdown has been excised from the single version. 3/5

6. Taylor Swift, "You Belong With Me"--I guess you'd call this country-pop; it also fits into the genre of media that unconvincingly paints beautiful women as loveless pointdexters. Generic yet pleasant, the chorus is catchy though no "Love Story." 3/5

7. Lady GaGa, "Lovegame"--I had so little use for the astonishingly popular GaGa's two previous singles I took a pass on this one. Probably bad and unintelligent, you'll have to figure it out for yourself.

8. Pitbull, "I Know You Want Me"--As far as I can tell, everything about reggaeton distilled to its essance--a countdown, a repetetive rhythm halfway between hip-hop and cumbia, bilingual lyrics, much talk about sex. A lot of the pop crits went wild for this one, I think it's OK. 3/5

9. Jeremiah, "Birthday Sex"--Yup, that's what it's about. Pretty unremarkable: slow, with some robo-bongo percussion. Somebody's been listening to Kells. 2/5

10. Hannah Montana, "He Could Be The One"--Cyrus still can't sing. Bland, aspiring to rock yet with a country twang in the lyrics. 2/5


Hype Machine's "Popular MP3 & Music Blog Tracks," July 18-21

1. Sufjan Stevens, "Chicago"--I've never quite understood the appeal of Stevens, but then I've never tried that hard. This modest epic does little to change my mind, and I'm baffled as to why a song 4 years old would top this list, but that's Hype Machine for you. At least it's not a mash-up of "A-Punk" and "Love Lockdown," or anything of the sort. 2/5

2. Boys Noize, "Jeffer"--Sub-Justice dance-y music pollutes the Hype Machine charts, and this tune stinks. It beeps and squeals and stuff, but lord knows I would never choose to move my body to this. 334 people disagree, and "loved" the song...*sigh* 2/5

3. M83, "We Own The Sky"--I've always appreciated how much M83 are willing to rip off My Bloody Valentine, and I mean that completely in earnest. While the drum machines and synths change things up, the reference points are still there--hushed vocals and music that sounds like it was composed in waves and layers rather than measures. The best M83 tracks (my fave is "Don't Save Us From The Flames") twist shoegaze to a wonderful, ghostly effect. This song is hardly one of those, it's pretty good regardless. 4/5

4. Kings Of Convenience, "Mrs. Cold"--Halfway between Jason Mraz and "Girl From Ipanema." A delicate, forgettable number. I mean that as a compliment. 3.5/5

5. Chromeo, "Call Me Up (Bag Raiders Remix)"--Haven't heard the original. The song starts out nicely with a quiet build, but the vocalist sounds like a poseur and the telephone noises distract from the calmness of the rest of the composition. Steers into more conventional synth-pop territory two-thirds of the way through. It's for the better. 2.5/5

6. Barack Obama, "You Ain't My Bitch, Nigga"--An Obama impersonator spouting gangsta cliches. Not especially funny, probably racist. 0.5/5

7. Sebastien Tellier, "Fingers Of Steel (Hypnolove Remix)"--One of like 25 remixes that this blogger posted, it's no wonder the dude didn't seem especially taken with this one. Describing it would be a waste of my time. 2/5

8. Elizabeth & The Catapult, "Race You"--Quirky, unendearing chanteuse-pop, a la Feist or the odious Regina Spektor. 1.5/5

9. Santigold, "M.I.A. Artistes (feat. Pitbull & Ying Yang Twins)"--Weird. Combines one of my favorite songs of the past few years, the Pitbull-featuring Ying Yang Twins jam "Shake," with the beat and choruses from "L.E.S. Artistes," by the Bud Light Lime-approved shout-rapper Santigold. Nothing to write home about, unless you are a Hype Machine user. 2.5/5

10. Atlas Sound, "Walkabout"--I'm in love with this song, and I confess it was a major reason I picked the Hype charts over the elbo.ws ones. A collaboration between Deerhunter's Bradford Cox and Animal Collective's Panda Bear, the circular, colorful, and vaguely orgasmic melody bears the strong influence of the latter. Less immediate are the contributions of Cox, who handles lead vocals and comes up with some very A.C.-esque lyrics. Childlike, lovely, brilliant. 5/5

I crunched the numbers, and the average score for the Billboard tracks was 2.5. The Hype Machine songs averaged at 2.55.


  1. Inspired by you, I took it upon myself to listen to several of these songs. You were right to avoid Lady Gaga, what a combo of terrible musicianship combined with a loathsome personality! She has officially supplanted Journey as the music of choice that will make me seriously leave a bar if it happens to come on--I just hate her repetitive stupid synth-fart riffs, overlaid with lyrics that lack even a sort of base, neurons-at-least-functioning intelligence. She alone is bringing the already intellectually bankrupt domain of pop music to its knees, as if it wasn't doing terribly already. Lady Gaga will be known in the future as the woman who officially destroyed music and replaced it with pornography masquerading as performance art, raving and drinking and fucking while banging her head against a casio and calling it a "riff."

    Anyway for the rest of the list I find it inexplicable that you find Taylor Swift as acceptable as you do, and I would do you one further and argue that the Black Eyed Peas have two 0/5ers on their hands. Same principle, really, with Fergie: I hear her rap or sing, it makes my day much worse. Of all the songs there, I suppose I would say "Fire Burning" is the best, although "Best I Ever Had" has kind of an odd effect on me, it sounds like a really sad song for reasons I can't yet place.

  2. Do you mean you've never met a self-professed Pauline Kael fan, or Pauline Kael has never met a self-professed Black Eyed Peas fan?

    "Walkabout" is this year's "Hey Ya!"