Hilary Duff ft. Hailey Duff - Our Lips Are Sealed


“Can you hear them?/They talk about us/ Telling lies/ Well that’s no surprise.”

Bounce.

And you thought I’d forgotten you? Hilary my dear, I was merely biding my time! Could I ignore your squeaky-clean Disney girl-rock? That precious poppet stage-school face, brimming over with wholesome sentiments of adolescent empowerment? Never!

I was just waiting to find that perfect track; the song exuding every fluffy blonde grin and smug popular superiority. ‘So Yesterday’ is annoying, sure, but does it push the boundaries, hmmm? Is it overflowing with chunky guitars and shampoo-advert worth hair-tossing? Exactly! And OK, ‘Come Clean’ was all up with its angst, but you never really rose to that challenge, did you? All you mustered was some listless window-staring as if totally traumatized that you best friend had, like, bought the same baby blue Uggs as you.

But this? Perfection! It’s just you and big sis against the world, armed with nothing but a perky cover of a dull 80s song and an abundance of stompy drum rattles. Because it’s a mean world out there alright; one in which people say, like, totally untrue things which hurt your feelings! Where Hailey is reduced to singing alternate lines, but nobody can tell the difference! Where you have to resort to a little sister-on-sister suggestion to get airplay! What is this place coming to, eh?

But from the first descending chord sequence and fierce beat, you’ve finally got me hooked. A joyful romp through the moral high ground ensues, but dressed up in pouting petulance, I don’t even notice! It’s almost enough to forgive you for that ‘Cinderella Story’ debacle. Oh, I’m not talking about the film; this is about when - after an hour of foreshadowing about how dry it is and how there’s an awful drought- those first drops of symbolically loved-up rain begin to fall, do they finally blast out ‘Come Clean’ with it’s “let the rain pour down!” cathertic meaning? Do they hell. Pah!

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Jimmy Eat World - A Praise Chorus


“I’m on my feet/ I’m on the floor/ I’m good to go/ All I need is just to hear a song I know/ I want to always feel like part of this was mine/ I want to fall in love tonight.”

Download

It's here. Take it. You wait for life to begin. You wait, mind filled with half-truths of what you thought it should be like. Not this slow stretch of mundane moments for sure. I mean, they’re just pictures in a magazine, just frozen frames on a screen, but they resonate with a technicolour you can taste – such vivid promise of racing pulse, a shiver in your chest. You wait.

And then one night you’re pressed in the midst of this thrum, bodies strung together on the same single line of bass, waiting for the swoop and split-second stutter of pace change that will send you plunged into that something more. You’ve got someone tapping their fingers on your heart, crying out their truth so loud it sets the back of your throat on fire.

Or you’re running down unfamiliar streets, breathless because the summer dorm curfew closes in two minutes and the skin on your knees is stinging from where they hauled you up over that concrete parking lot siding. But you don’t care, hair damp from tumbling through the park sprinkler system, and as you round the corner you see the perfect frame lit up in harsh fluorescent glare. So you take the shot, brief moment of stillness in the midst of chaos, and only later in the lab (as the shadows slowly come to life under dull red glare), do you see the perfection of contrast and crisp lines.

Or you perch on a low couch in some bar an ocean away from home; ruby liquid in a curved glass muffling the busy hum as chandeliers and candlelight blur the world into shades of shadow. His voice is in your ear. His fingers tracing the contours of your collarbone. Armed with new red shoes and a laugh you don’t yet know the meaning to, you are everything you will become.

And you realize that this is it. This. Is. It. Whatever you’ve been waiting for; those moments of sheer pounding intensity? It can’t be more than this.

Every time these exuberant chords strike up, the way the verses segue joyfully into that heartskip bridge and then fall into that chorus, (Oh that chorus!) – such hope, such promise – well, they light it all in me again.

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Nina Gordon - Straight Outta Compton


PopText will resume my usual meanderings tomorrow, because for now it's 4am and I want to weigh in on this; a female acoustic cover of the NWA track which has been causing some racket over at ilx and the like.

People say it’s a dull cover. People say its offensive. People say there wouldn’t be such a fuss if she did some crazy electro-dub remix thing. But of the people who care enough to be disgraced, the majority appear to be men. And I find that pretty interesting.

This is not a genre I chose to listen to. Familiar territory to many readers I know: woman as degraded objects etc. Every numb-eyed faux stripper in every blinged up video makes my heart sink a little further and for each song that doesn’t promote this world-view, odds are that artist has a stack more that do just waiting on their album. So I obviously didn’t bother with the NWA version.

But this made me listen to the track for the first time; familiar female voice plaintive with emotion, gentle strumming and flowing rhyme pattern. Talking about gang life and murder. Issues of class and ethnicity are flying around. People care if she, as a middle class white girl, has the ‘right’ to take a track with such deeply rooted socio-cultural relevance and pull it from this apparently sacred context.

Yes, there is the ‘cheap trick’ obvious juxtaposition that comes with the switch of genre, but so what? Comedy cross-genre covers aren’t such a big deal; you’ve got the Gourds bluegrass ‘Gin & Juice’, Ben Kweller turned his attentions to ‘Ice Ice Baby’, hell even Kid 606 did a direct sample of this song without such outcry.

So why should I care?

Well, it’s just the sneaking suspicion that if it were John Mayer strumming away in a back room with this, there wouldn’t be nearly as much derision and attack. People would laugh, but not half as many panties would be getting quite so twisted.

See, Nina took a song that speaks not just of a cultural experience, but a brutally male one, and has subverted it into an unashamedly feminine entity. Her voice is fragile, the guitar melodious. No aggression. No bravado. Just vulnerability and aching regret. The fact is not that she’s middle class, or white, but because she is a woman. That is the final straw that jolts the listener into thinking about the song, and I consider that to be the underlying reason for the impassioned response.

Not ‘What right does she have to take this track, n-word and all, and sing it for her/our entertainment? (Because god forbid a song be, you know, sung!)
But, ‘What right does this woman have to take this track?’

It probably isn’t her intention to make some feminist statement, because had she continued to the second verse, we would have had her sweetly lulling “So if you're at a show in the front row/ I'm a call you a bitch or dirty-ass ho” and then it would have been obvious and the focus of all discussion. But I prefer it this way; a not-so-subtle reframing of context that strips away that defense for content and leaves you only with the meaning.

Because an artist can hide it behind beats and a quick-fire delivery, or synthesized production, but in the end, their words will stand alone and maybe, just maybe, another person might rethink the opinion they’ve been absentmindedly repeating. Those might well be fighting words.

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Nickel Creek - When You Come Back Down


"When you’re flying high/ Take my heart along/ I’ll be the harmony/ To every lonely song that you learn to play."

The beauty and the mess.

There’s this universal vision of great passion and oh so tender love, cried out in vivid ache or whispered soft. Magnified by a lifetime consuming hungrily all the art that mirrors back this desire, we’re left with a promise - almost tangible - of the moving and vivid emotions we hope so fiercely really do exist. And so we fill our own words and images with half-frames and soft syllables of this as-yet-unknown apparition, characters faking the words we don’t yet understand the meaning to, all the while gripped with a numb fear that, just as we add to this illusion with our own hopeful pretence, so too has everyone else. All we’re doing is propping up this myth with our own longing. A perpetual cycle of yearning for a dream which may not exist the way they told us it would.

The softly loving voice, the ease of gentle lyricism; is it any wonder a girl comes of age with such naively hopeful notions of menfolk and their ways? I don’t know this love. Lust? I know fleeting shadows of desire for sure, mechanical and distant as my mind wanders and hopes for something more than this. I know of affection, and platonic warmth. I know of care and naïve thrills. And I know what it is to have my heart break from loneliness, (a pain that bypasses that organ altogether in favour of the gripping anguish that consumes your chest and centre), even without it ever having swollen.

But I know not love, the way they promise it here with fragile banjo and soaring melody. I don’t believe those pledges anymore, of course. Tragic plays and windswept novels are no more than a frail and pained figure hunched behind that vast curtain; but it’s that broken and imperfect thing I desire.

Because there has to be some feeling more than these I know already.

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Cake - Short Skirt/ Long Jacket


“With fingernails that shine like justice/ And a voice that is dark like tainted glass/ She is fast, thorough, and sharp as a tack/ She’s touring the facilities and picking up the slack.”

All hail the quirky mid-nineties American altrocker! (right-click download as usual m'dears)

You see, back in the day there were none of these anorexic indie boys with their artful fringes and skinny-pinstripe blazers. (Britpop! Does! Not! Count!) Oh no. Think unashamed geek vogue, not i-D ready coverstars. Think bowling shirts before the emo boys got hold of them. Think facial hair that wasn’t carefully tended, and primary colour videos with random furry animals.

The joy!

And this is simply irresistible; all suave lounge funk and arch drawling. The horn section and meandering bassline which smoothly amble to nowhere in particular! The low called line repetition and sheer nonsense of lyricism! Hell, it even has ‘nah nah nah’s peppering its uber-cool arrangement! What more could a girl of discerning taste require from her superior pop gods?

This is certainly the song for shifting fashionably on the spot in that retro nightspot, post-ironic umbrella cocktail in hand, maraschino cherry swirling on tongue.

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Butterfly Boucher - Another White Dash


“There is something/ Deep and pulling/ Leaving everything behind/ Something about having everything you think you’ll ever need/ Sitting in the seat next to you.”

Drive.

I have a thing about road trip songs. Car songs. Traveling songs. It goes back to when I was a child; the only time I could be guaranteed my father’s undivided attention being when he was driving me back and forth from somewhere. Out of the car there were always tasks to be done, other people’s children requiring attention, the opportunity for him to ‘rest his eyes’ mid-conversation. But in that little bubble of air conditioning and concrete view, he was mine.

Now its journeys in general. The fast/ red/ bass-full combination of summer and 2manyDJs, the gentle 3am hum of the coach as it pulls me back from London. Here there are half-ominous cello and chorus string interludes, giving way to strumming diversion. Generic alt-rock Lilith Fair voice, but somehow it works, with half-beat pauses and that inevitable chorus of winding repetition.

Because Butterfly gets it, despite the unfortunate name. She knows the sinking slumber of empty motorways and neon squiggles in my tired eyes, hand resting at the back of some paramour’s neck.

Going somewhere.
Getting there fast.

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Katy Rose - Catch My Fall


“I wonder/ Why it always feels like rain/ My life is like/Some cheap champagne.”

Angst alert! (download)

We’re not just talking run-of-the-mill, daddy doesn’t love me and my moody band-mate boyfriend’s cheating on me with an Abercrombie model. Oh no, this is the real deal! A brief tour through Ms Rose’s oeuvre reveals a joyful wealth of prescription drugs, therapy and abandonment, but this sing-a-long is blessed not only with such overwhelming self-destruction, but a jaunty chord sequence to boot! Hooray!

Bouncing along with altogether more enthusiasm than you’d expect such a sullen poppet to muster, this has an exuberant rhythm section, cute little guitar jig and even a fabulously poptastic male backing chorus layer. In fact, if you ignore the opening scream, you could almost forget she’s talking about sinking deeper into her own depression just to test the ambivalence of her nearest and dearest.

Because Katy’s that girl who sits moodily in the corner at parties, consciously expecting her visible distress to attract reams of sympathetic attention. And of course, because she’s a pretty young thing in a ripped silk slip, it does. So, self-fulfilling prophecy in place, she can now go write more songs about how people only care about superficial things. Yay for perpetuating your own sanctimonious misery, my dear!

But thankfully, the bouncy jangles and little jam breakdown made this altogether more palatable than most angst-by-numbers. She even says "You let me go/ Like your sister's kite"! Almost enough to bring a glimmer of sarcastic smile to the pouting lips of any teen guitar queen.

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The Kills - No Wow


“You’re going to have to step over my dead body/ Before you walk out that door/ Charmed me with your magic/ Landed looking tragic.”

This is a real live download!

Enough electro. Enough knowing throwback nods and synthetic loveliness that have dominated this week, its time for some of those oh-so-worthy REAL instruments. You know, songwriting by the band (man) and live performances and sweat and all those things a lot of people seem to think are somehow at all relevant to the production of a fabulous song. Ahem. See, and you thought I was merely a transient pop tart. Get me and my eclectic inclusion!

So in spite of ticking enough signifiers of true musical ‘worthiness’ to keep the very dullest rockism flag waving limply in the breeze of self-congratulation (because as you know, I care *so* much about the cultural and critical relevance of my songs), this is one damn fine tune. The opening tam-tam-esque thrum alone will win over any dear soul, jaded by months where actual drums have rarely lived up to the artificial flavorings our poplets spoiled us with.

And then guitars come a-chugging! Drumbeat starts a-pounding! Vocals drawl a-pouting in true hipster chic fashion and there’s more than enough angular chord bursts to keep things sharp and slick! How about versatility? This girl’s got the ‘Guide to Stylish Rock Front Person Behavior’ covered. She does Karen O! She does PJ in the days PJ was happy! The vision of blunt-cut ebony fringe and neon stilettos is already jutting her hips in my mind.

Top marks my dear. I’ll even forgive the redundant fuzzy static bit at the end.

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Fefe Dobson - Don't Go (Boys & Girls)


“Don’t go/ Boys and boys should be together/ Don’t go/ Girls and girls can rule the world.”

I know I’m not exactly the most scathing of music writers, because guess what? This blog is for songs worth the time it takes me to craft a suitably sarcastic offering of devotion. But I’m not even going to attempt to maintain a semblance of criticism today, because holy moly this is giving me such joyful delight. To paraphrase my thought pattern as the video rolled past me: “Oh. My. God. This was released? And I didn’t hear it? This. Was. Released??!!”

‘Fefe?’ I hear you cry. ‘But her debut was direly inconsequential eyeliner rock!’ I know. Hence the shocking awe at such a polished and damn good record. As if echoing our lacklustre frustration, some kind soul must have taken the little poppet aside for a wee chat. ‘Sweetie,’ they so tactfully began, “Life has moved on. Avril can keep churning out those same alienation anthems, but you’ve Lala’s and Kelly’s to contend with now. And by god they’re a thousand times better than this crap you’ve pouting over.”*

So she went and took the opening four bars of ‘Since U Been Gone’ and listened to some Cyndi Lauper, and then instead of attempting a new 80s update in the way Girls Aloud and Gwen have, she didn’t move it along one single damn year. Oh no. This is the pure, unadulterated stuff. Think painfully hypnotic chorus chant, simple bass pound and mindless squiggles. I don’t give a damn about the senseless verses because its all so purely repetitive in the way only the best songs can get away with. Hell, I’ve had the thing on repeat play for an hour and I’m still metaphorically leaping from my computer chair in joy.

There’s ‘ba ba baba’s and ‘shalala shalalala! The craziest drawled ‘On the cover of a MAG-UH-ZIN-E’ you’ve ever heard! And then it hits the breakdown with a capella chanting layers until boys and girls can rule the world with whoever they damn well feel like!

Stop. Go!



*(said kind soul obviously time traveled back to July)

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Jewel - Intuition


“Just follow your heart/ Your intuition/ It will lead you in the right direction.”

Oh, Jewel, why have you forsaken us? All those years of fragile soulfulness, reminding impressionable girls that their hands really were their own, and that they’ve been down so long that the end must be drawing near, and for what? This empty sub-Shakira beat? This inane pop-lite that drips with the stench of betrayed idealism? Shame on you!

It happens of course, the youthful bloom of simple sentiment and achingly emotional songs lain in sacrifice at the temple of world dominance. And I’d have been rejoicing – nubile blonde thing that she is, just made for the stiletto walk of shame - had she not turned in such a pitifully lackluster effort dressed up as parody. I mean, go ahead and make your video a metanarrative commentary on the modern music industry, complete with ‘viewer comments’ saying how much better you sound now that you flash all that cleavage, but that doesn’t change the fact you’re willfully perpetuating the system you’ve been so loftily deriding at great profit for all these years.

Want some love from me? Sorry. A man carrying a flashing neon sign pointing at his head reading ‘Wanker’ doesn’t excuse the fact he is one. In fact, it takes him to a whole new level of inexcusability for the simple fact that he is in full knowledge of his wanking status and yet prances round, unapologetic! He expects us to celebrate his proud display of arrogance in inadequacy! Pah!

Because there’s selling out, and then there’s fellating the Man while dressed in a gimp suit sewn by underage orphans in Guatemala. There’s abandoning your integrity, and then there’s ripping said integrity into tiny shreds, setting them alight and then gulping the ashes down with a gulp of Diet Coke drunk so that the label’s facing the camera. A street prostitute with three kids and a crack habit, now there’s someone I can respect. She does what she has to, but you my dear have a few million record sales in the bank.

Say it with me: Shame. On. You.

(For the record, my problem is not with a performer who previously defined herself as the feminist, anti-exploitative voice of a good many women choosing to redefine herself as a sexual object in order to sell records (because anyone who’s devoured ‘Jupiter’ or ‘Absence of Fear’ can tell of their sensuous desire and raw sexual power); Actually, hell, it is! But throwing vodka in my eyes is the fact that she did it with such a goddamn awful record!)

Watch the dream die here

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Gwen Stefani - Bubble Pop Electric


“Tonight I’m going to give you all my love/ In the backseat.”

This is a beat.

An exhausting stutter of crazy pacing that both robs me of all coherent thought and fills me with exhilarating heart-race breathlessness. I’m entranced, but feel like I’m going to die from the speed of this bass thrum, and every time I think I might have a grasp of the rhythm, it’s gone again on that mad tripping dash for some other solar system. Everything else is merely an after-thought.

And there is a lot else; Matthew has already made the Archie analogy, but while he was focused on the glamour vs girl next door class issues, I see only the vision of American nostalgia bound up in this frighteningly futuristic song. The lyrics of back-seat drive-in parking and track meets juxtaposed with electro genius never imagined in that 50s small-town. And she pushes it. The dialogue of weekend dating and doorstop anticipation from music icons whose natural habitat is now the red carpet and Bungalow 8?

But because this image is of a world that never really existed outside of ubiquitous media nods and artistic longing, they pull it off. Painted in the retro choral layering and bubblegum coos is that same land of picket fences and milkshake diners we’ve seen in every other form than the era and place itself. We believe, because it exists in our mind, framed by every comic strip and Pleasantville-style vision born of a desire for simplicity and school dance, cheerleader perfection.

And now, imbibed with fierce synth insistence, that vision is pulled from the past and swirled through with faux-80s artificial colourings (because surely the 80s were never this mind-blowing?) finally landing, robbed of context, in the nebulous time-zone of now.

But above all else, this is a beat.

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Darren Hayes - I Like The Way


“Pull yourself over me/ Until there’s nothing left to see/ Because I like the way you move in the dark/ I like the tension/ The tension and the spark.”

There are pop songs light and tripping over with carefree heartbeats, all filtered sunshine through spring-fresh trees and the feel of dawn dew between your toes. And then there are the other ones. Songs that are heavy with complexity, weighed down with a wondrous layering that claws you into the smothered velvet texture of this other world.

Darren pulls me under into magnificent, rich regret. Sinuously twisting plea, the violent breathlessness that lingers in the bloodstream. Insistent thrum of intro synth beat and swirling strings, trapping me in this cage of grasping need. And so it builds, self-destruction given a voice and ominous harmony: that haunted whisper chorus and knowing desperation.

Tangible lust, the terrifying burn; so simple and wrong but oh, it’s our undoing and doesn’t he know this so well? Because what are we in the end but flesh and sinew, a flash in the eyes and the taste of skin on skin? All the whirlwind threads of justification and inner torment can’t escape the circle, until the painfully seamless meld of fibers in a soundscape of pure desire.

Whisper it slow, with the pangs of guilt it deserves:
The one thing missing here is love.

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John Mayer - Daughters


“See that skin?/ It’s the same she’s been standing in/ Since the day/ She saw him walking away/ Now she’s left/ Cleaning up the mess he made.”

This isn’t even my favorite Mayer track. In fact, I’ve heard approximately fifteen better by him; songs that fill me with ‘skipping fourth period economics to go sit in a Brighton coffee bar flicking through glossy magazines and dreaming of the life I’ll lead’ sunshine memories. Songs that perfectly capture the youthful naivety of simple hope in love. Songs which are, at the very least, vaguely more interesting and memorable than this.

But infuriatingly, this one hypnotizes me. A sort of Philip Larkin for suburban America, (who obviously can’t quite take the brutal honesty of “They fuck you up/ Your mum and dad”) It alone deserves a post simply because I feel so blatantly manipulated, yet utterly sold on his wee homily. ‘Look’, John is telling me from under his artfully rumpled college-boy fringe, ‘I get your abandonment issues and deep-set fear of another man ruining you like that. Aren’t I an insightful modern metrosexual, all in touch with feminine behavioral determinants?’

And what kills me, is he is. So few lines, so irritatingly accurate. I mean, it’s trite! Straightforward, teeth-clenching, Hallmark catchphrase-worthy, clichéd self-help book material! There’s such a smug sympathy to it, as if merely stating that absent fathers tend to fuck up their daughters doesn’t even deserve a jaunty chord sequence. You’ve just identified how I’ll never be able to muster a decent relationship, my dear; the very least you could do is allow me a catchy few middle eight bars! I’m doomed to a life of intimacy problems, don’t I even deserve a proper pacy little number?

Sigh. But no, apparently as one of the damaged millions, all I get is this plodding guitar strum-a-thon. If my abandonment issues weren’t enough to send me into therapy, then the aftermath of this mind-numbingly dull verse arrangement may well be.

The part that really gets under my skin is the sheer eye-rolling inevitability of, “Girls become lovers/ Who turn into mothers…” Neatly summarize universal patriarchal attitudes to female identity solely in relation to our reproductive characteristics, why don’t you? Yes, I am a woman, and I exist solely to have sex and rear children. Glad we cleared that up, I was beginning to aim for a fully autonomous life of which a man was only an additional part. Imagine that!

Yet, bemusingly, John manages to eek out a corner of affection in my embittered heart. Maybe it’s because he’s provided a kind of understated anthem teenage girls can cradle close to their overflowing hearts (beside Jimmy Eat World’s ‘The Middle’) as they attempt to navigate the strange terrain of emotional scarring. Maybe it’s because sometimes its nice to have things spelt out in such simple terms, to look at and smile and nod and say “Ooo get me and my universally recognized issues.”

Or perhaps I’m just a sucker for his ruffled little cough syrup rock thing.

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Kasey Chambers - Nullarbor Song


“Last night I woke/ with the stars staring back at me/ Swallowing the sky/ A whistle blows/ Just to break the silence/ I wait/ Just to pass the time.”

This is only a ballad, in the way true heartbreak is only the end of the world. The aching understatement when you’ve cried yourself hoarse; when all you can do is lay there while the darkening day drifts past your window. You’re waiting for it to release you, but all you can hope for are a few brief moments of calm. And then light is gone outside open curtains, and you can only wait for the pain to take hold again in those tides of anguish.

It’s all so inevitable.

Languid wistfulness aches from every chord, spilling over with the desolation of no way out. Meandering on, there’s nothing to add to those couple of guitars and a soft cymbal beat, because her voice is everything. It exudes the kind of melancholy torment from every sweet syllable that never fails to reduce me to misery.

There are few voices which break my heart on a regular basis. Kasey ranks way up there. You won’t know her, because she doesn’t play the country game: no styled hair and radio edits, not even new cross-genre innovation complete with cheerleader backing dancers or self-referential redneck anthem. A pierced, cropped Australian, nothing but a couple of guitars, a world of heartache, and oh, that voice.

Download this gem from the link here, becuase I can't host yet!

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