It never ceases to amaze me how pop culture trends evolve in a circular fashion. I suppose it has something to do with the need to rebel against the status quo by alluding to an era that itself was jettisoned for the same reason. In any case, there is no doubt that 80’s synth pop is back, albeit in a less earnest and more ironic avatar. I’m surprised to find myself really enjoying this genre, because this is exactly the kind of stuff I would have baulked at in my teens. Se la vie. Electropop groups like the Junior Boys, Hot Chip, MGMT and Cut Copy have influenced mainstream pop, and some of these artists have found mainstream success in their own right.
Of course, the first album I’m submitting to you has absolutely nothing to do with the aforementioned trend, other than the fact that this artist also has a keen sense of history, which is evident in all three of her albums. The artist in question is M.I.A, the UK’s underground hip hop and indie pop darling who shot to mainstream superstardom following Slumdog Millionaire’s prominent usage of her Paper Planes (which itself liberally borrows a key part of its melody from The Clash’s Straight to Hell) song. Her new album, MAYA, has received mixed reviews from the music press, but I disagree. I think that the self important ilk that constitutes indie reviews (Pitchfork for example) devise their own expectations about who and what should be, and then are dissapointed when she doesn’t conform to that expectation (ironic because that lack of cookie cutter conformity is what they liked about her in the first place).
MAYA is adventurous, fresh, and intelligent. Of course it didn’t help that she decided to release perhaps the least accessible (and in my opinion perhaps the worst song on the album) as her first single. Nevertheless, MAYA succeeds in blending a wide range of musical influences ranging from straight pop to reggae to dubstep and electroclash into raucous yet compelling and surprisingly cohesive album. There are fewer overt references to South Asian music here, but its influence can still be heard. Oh, and she’s hot!
Top Songs: It Takes a Muscle, XXXO, Story to Be Told
Second on the list is Big Boi‘s superb debut solo album Sir Luscious Left Foot…The Son of Chico Dusty (if you don’t count the Speakerboxx part of Outkast’s The Speakerboxx/Love Below album). In an era when mainstream hip hop sounds more and more formulaic and driven by market research reports than creativity, Big Boi’s genre spanning and veritable party of an album is both refreshing and reassuring. The guy clearly hasn’t lost his passion for music, rapping, or storytelling, a feat that is all the more surprising since he’s been on the scene for the better part of two decades. Sir Luscious Left Foot is what great pop music should aspire to be: Fun, immediately appealing yet capable of longevity, daring, and a little challenging. Big Boi also has enough lyrical dexterity to satiate the more traditional hip hop heads. Bottom line: One of the best Hip Hop albums to be released in the last half decade.
Top Songs: They are all great but if I have to choose….Shutterbug, Hustle Blood
and a few other tracks/albims and artists that are worth a listen…
Artist: The Cave Singers Album: Welcome Joy
I love this album. Chilled out, melodic Northwestern folk rock sounds…nice.
and one from the old school!