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January 5, 2009 |

By TK Burton | Music | January 5, 2009 |

Welcome to the final week of the Year in Review… we’re into 2009 finally, so after this week, we’re hoping to start delving into the new stuff. Thanks for playing.

gnarls_barkley-the_odd_couple_b.jpgGnarls Barkley: The Odd Couple
[Downtown Records/Warner]

[Note: As a critic, I make a strong distinction between my favorite things and the best things. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind may be my favorite movie, but I accept that The Godfather is probably the best. I’ve developed this distinction over time. Now, when I do my inevitable end-of-the-year lists, I split them into three: My favorite albums of the year, the best albums of the year, and the overall albums of the year (the averaged scores of the other two lists). This year, the debate over the best album has left me in total confusion. But, the choice of my favorite album is clear:]

Imagine yourself in a state of true depression. You’ve lost someone dear to you, and you just want to let out all of your emotions. But all anyone around you wants to do is dance. They can’t be bothered to think or feel. They just need to groove. So what do you do?

You make people dance to your sadness.

Nobody sings their sorrows quite like Cee-Lo Green. This isn’t a bold statement; nobody sings anything quite like Cee-Lo Green. It’s like saying that nobody paints with the color blue quite like Picasso. It’s an understatement. And yet, when the average person thinks of Cee-Lo, or his duo with Danger Mouse, Gnarls Barkley, they think of his danceable mega hits, like “Crazy”, “Gone Daddy Gone”, or “Smiley Faces”. Gnarls Barkley is the party band, the disco ball in the club, the perfect fun mood-setter. But this barely scratches the surface of these songs. Even the lyrics to “Crazy” are rather depressing (and when they performed the song at the Grammys, it was stirring and beautiful rather than fun). And so it is with “The Odd Couple”, the band’s often melancholy and even experimental sophomore album.

People seemed to expect a lot out of Gnarls Barkley going into this release. They had one of the most successful debut albums of the decade, and their star was rising quickly. Yet, listening to songs like the heart-wrenching “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul?” and the rhythmic fury of “Open Book”, it sounds like the band was more interested in exorcising personal demons than repeating their chart success. The lyrics don’t recall the upbeat atmosphere of their previous work. “Oh, how could this be?/All this time, I’ve lived vicariously/Who’s gonna save my soul now?” Cee-Lo sings, and the hurt is splattered on the walls of his lyrical canvass like blood on his hands. The lament is almost tragic. That song is followed by the fast-paced “Going On”, but with the catchy chorus and quick beat, there is self-exploration, as Cee-Lo sings as much about letting go of this Earth as letting go of his troubles and getting down.

The album is a complex series of questions that answer themselves, despair bordering on suicide, and acceptance of the lives we lead and must eventually leave. No song summarizes these feelings better than the closer, “A Little Better”, a telling and uplifting song of emotional release. It may be the album’s most simple-sounding track, a bouncing bass line moving things along as Cee-Lo lifts his chin and smiles into the darkness of his past: “I want to thank you morning sun/I want to thank you loaded gun/Now I know I’m not the only one.”

It may not be perfect, but Gnarls Barkley’s “The Odd Couple” is one of the most profoundly personal discs to come out of the pop world in years. For Cee-Lo Green and Danger Mouse, the party continues on, but the haunting emotionality they leave in their wake will linger with me for years to come.
Christian H.

youthnovels.jpegLykke Li: Youth Novels
[LL Recordings/EMI Sweden]

Hooray for Lykke Li. What we all really needed in 2008, in these worrying times of economic downturn, was a mournful album of minimalist pop that’s really difficult to dance to. And boy did the mildly irritating Swedish chanteuse deliver! Just listen to ‘Little Bit’, with its babyish vocals, light instrumentation, and cowbell: it is the very definition of nagging, burrowing its way into your mind as Li sings “I think I’m a little bit/A little bit/A little bit in love with you”. It’s such a good song, because it feels simple despite being artfully constructed - and there’s tenderness in there; real feeling and sexuality.

So, what else does the record offer, you ask? More of the same, really: hand-claps, distorted vocals, metallic-sounding backing vocals, subtle synth, syncopated drums, a touch of Spanish guitar. And you never really get more than three or four of those elements in each song, so sparse is the album. The song “I’m Good, I’m Gone’ came on my MP3 player while I was in the supermarket not long ago, and I literally had to do a dance step, so I went to the Utilities section and made sure no-one was looking, and did two steps to the right and a swivel. The CCTV guys must have had a great day. But it’ll make you skittish too: it’s got a brilliantly menacing piano riff, funny-sounding percussion, hand-claps and xylophone. The chorus is complete nonsense, of course. In fact, I have no idea what she’s going on about for most of the album. Boys, I suppose.

“Dance Dance Dance”

Other excellent songs on the album include ‘Dance Dance Dance’, which isn’t very dance-y at all - Li sings it in the manner of someone standing at the top of a cliff, contemplating a long fall down. Also, ‘Let It Fall’, which I would call ‘groovy’ if it wasn’t the worst word in the world, and ‘My Love’, which goes nowhere at all, but has distressing brass and an eery vocal chorus, which is offset by her showtunes-y vocal turn. Oh, and I nearly forgot ‘Breaking It Up’! You’re going to love that one. It’s got some excellent break-beats on it, sharp piano and a funny whirring sound, and an insane chorus where loads of people shout “If you’re going abroad, I can’t help you/If you’re crossing the street, I might be there.” What, is he blind or something?

I think what I liked about Lykke Li this year is the way she kept playing around with sounds - playing songs in different styles and tempos, collaborating with other people, using idiotic and arcane instruments: no two Youtube performances are the same. It seems to show a restlessness, and a desire for innovation, which I find really exciting. Pop music has often relied on glitz and size to make itself loved (which is no bad thing; the pop song of the year is surely the storming ‘American Boy’ by Estelle and Kanye West) but here Lykke Li reins it in, while still creating something that pulses with life and curiosity. In that vein, here she is singing a more up-tempo version of ‘Dance Dance Dance’ with Bon Iver - who also had a quite good record out this year, you may have noticed.
—Caspar Salmon

hotchip.jpgHot Chip: Made In The Dark

The lead singer of Hot Chip looks like he was taken directly from the casting line for Revenge of the Nerds. His look goes hand in hand with the sound behind Made in the Dark, their third album, with its heavy synth and 80’s throwback beats.

Hot Chip is an electro-dance band from the UK. They are also up for a Grammy for Best Dance Recording at the upcoming awards ceremony. This is surprising to me since the Grammys are not necessarily known for nominating actual good music. These are the people behind the Album of the Year nomination of tear tattooed face Lil’ Wayne and his songs about licking ladies like lollipops, for God’s sake.

Hot Chip also puts on one hell of a live show. I went to their First Avenue show in Minneapolis earlier this spring and it was by far the best show I went to all year. It’s indescribable when a packed crowd is completely in synch with the live music and having the best time of their lives. They will always hold a special place in my heart for that show.

“Ready For The Floor”

Standouts from Made in the Dark are, “Hold On,” “Ready For the Floor” (the Grammy nominated song) and “Wrestlers.” There are also a handful of slower ballads on this album, which is sort of a departure for them, but I feel it shows a range of diversity for Hot Chip. It also shows that they’re not afraid to go out on a limb and expand their musical choices.

Pajiba Music

The Year In Review, Day 6
/ Pajiba Music Writers & The Eloquents

Music | January 5, 2009 |

TK Burton is the Editorial Director. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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