[Music] Top 35 Tracks of 2013 (#5 – #1)

5. Mutya Keisha Siobhan – Flatline, TBA

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Before being swallowed into an never-ending maelstrom of pushbacks and false starts, it seemed like the S.S. MKS was in pretty competent hands. The girls’ story – that of three girl group members who were each alienated from a once-credible British institution over a period of nine years – was as hipster-friendly a narrative as anybody who performed on CD:UK could ever hope for. A sly A&R team hooked the trio up with a clutch of hot-property producers including Sia, Naughty Boy, and Dev Hynes, who gained notoriety helming acclaimed tracks for Solange and Sky Ferreira. “Flatline” chases the sleek, disenchanted 80’s sound of 2012 favourites “Losing You” and “Everything Is Embarrassing”, but rather ironically lacks the sugary energy of either.

The opening lyric of “Don’t say it, no / Please wait till were sober” is delivered with a depressed choke by Siobhan Donaghy, whose own 2008 solo album “Ghosts” would be the most obvious reference point were it not also so obviously inspired by the work of Kate Bush. Hard, thundering drums and riotous male-led battle cries evoke memories of “Hounds of Love”, although it appears someone onboard was smart enough to corroborate “Flatline” against a checklist of the original line-up’s own idiosyncrasies. Mutya Buena’s gravelly tone and Donaghy’s verbose lyricism both make appearances, while Keisha Buchanan’s trademark adlibs draw a devastating break-up anthem to a strangely euphoric close.

4. St. Lucia – Elevate, When The Night

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This is St. Lucia’s second appearance on our list, and it’s a tribute to the South African-born musician’s range as a performer that he can just as easily put his name to a relentless  EDM banger such as  “Modern Hearts” as he does to more organic fare like this. That’s not to say “Elevate” is lacking in thrills; conversely, it’s something of an aural carnival. Gilded synths swirl like an ice cream van’s siren, while swathes of electronic fuzz aim to leave your head swimming. The ecstasy of the song’s production offers a distraction from the dark subject matter; “Elevate” is ostensibly a love letter to a rather tragic character. “No one / elevates you / elevates you, now”, St. Lucia (née John –Philip Grobler) belts throughout the song’s chorus, presumably to a loyal if despondent friend. It’s tempting to see the irony of such a lyric being used as such a soaring, undeniable hook, but perhaps that’s the point; sometimes a song isn’t enough.

Not that you’ll be focusing on subtext by the halfway mark. The real magic of “Elevate” comes with the arrival of a morbidly obese bassline, squalling trumpets and a barely intelligible chant that dominates the track’s denouement. If it sounds like a mess, let it be known that this flourish is achieved with a stupefying sense of elegance, resulting in a song as colourful, bittersweet and regrettably brief as life itself.

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[Music] Lady Gaga – Artpop (review)

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Those picking up Lady Gaga’s latest in the hope of finding balls bigger than the one sported on the cover will be reassured by the opening moments of “Aura”, Artpop’s demented preamble. “I killed my former and / left her in the trunk on Highway 10,” she sings over a hastily strummed guitar, as if reciting the prologue to a direct-to-DVD Kill Bill rip-off. The track soon builds into a cacophony of laughter, then to an operatic breakdown of the its title, before finally morphing into the sticky electro-pop for which Mother Monster is best known, an aesthetic she maintains for the much of the record’s duration.

“I’m not a wandering slave / I am a woman of choice!” she rather justifiably belts. While its more provocatively titled demo “Burqa” may have caused a stir when it first leaked back in August, Gaga has shown some serious cojones – and perhaps just a smidgen of ignorance – in her keeping of the imagery of the burqa central to the song. “Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura? Behind the curtain, behind the burqa?” The sentiment of using said garment not as a tool to absolve oneself from the pressures of sexual objectification but rather as a minor obstacle in Gaga’s quest to slay the notion of female modesty once and for all is a divisive one, but it’s nice to know that the presence of that gaudy blue orb was not an act of overcompensation.

The record is allegedly the lovechild of the two unlikely bedfellows of its title, although it seems rather incongruous for a woman who has always approached her pop career as if it were at bonafide art form to suddenly create a distinction between the two. In practice, Gaga’s concept is less of a perfect marriage between art and pop than it is a botched blind date that ends after one drink. The ‘union’ has little effect on the music itself, with its impact peaking with the album’s striking artwork, care of Jeff Koons, while each of Artpop’s subsequent achievements can be attributed to its adherence to the demands of its second syllable.

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