Deep Cuts

Cathy Dennis’ “Toxic” demo

It might be a surprise for fans of Britney’s “Toxic” to know the song was written by former 90s pop star Cathy Dennis, the songwriter/co-producer of “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” (among others on Kylie’s Fever). Cathy offered “Toxic” to Kylie’s album Body Language first, but it was rejected.

In fact, Cathy’s Youtube-surfaced demo sounds near-identical to Britney’s version aside from the vocals, including the signature “Tere Mere Beech Mein” Bollywood sample.

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Deep Cuts

Reni Jusis – “Niemy Krzyk” (Magnes, 2006)

Having major creative control meant Reni Jusis experimented whenever she wanted. This resulted in several exciting twists to her already distinctive take on electro-pop (the existential “Ostatni Raz” to name one), but no Reni song surprised me as much as “Niemy Krzyk”, her most dark-sided to date.

Sometimes on the bottom of my heart I feel that
My life is beyond me again
I cannot carry [on] anymore
I went too far again

Why is it that I live faster
If I don’t enjoy the things I have

I want to run away again
Where nobody will find me

With fragile trance melodies rippling along, the lyrics reveal inner fears behind the dance-DJ glamor she adopted on the Magnes album. The impressive soar in her vocal hammers in the effect.

Thanks to Jan for the English translation. Full text here. Listen to my Reni Jusis playlist here.

Anniversary · Songs that got me into music

Songs that got me into music: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Zero” (It’s Blitz!, 2009)

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Part of a new series where I look back at the formative songs that made me obsessed with music in the first place. The next entries will have a more chronological order.

My first memory of Yeah Yeah Yeahs is when I saw the iconic video for “Zero”, voted by Spin and NME as song of the year. It was a fresh, exciting, neon-lit burst of energy; the tempo and lyrics imploring to ‘climb, climb, climb’. The contrast of mellow cool with exhilarating heights was key to the appeal of the It’s Blitz! album itself. It’s been close to a decade since I overheard my older siblings play the CD, yet somehow it’s just as great as I remember hearing it again now.

It’s Blitz! is an album of twin strengths; an ideal blend of a punk/rock base with electronic flourishes. Uproarious synth-rock fusions take turns with rich, idyllic ballads. Each of the ten songs have their twists, adding up to one of the most well-rounded albums I know. “Soft Shock” shows this duality best in both its music and title: electric but therapeutic, it’s a lullaby with a groove; while “Runaway” is an ambitious pseudo-gothic ballad going from soft, lonely piano to a thundering string peak. Some uptempo songs even invert this pattern, like “Heads Will Roll” with its murky ‘Shut your eyes / you realize’ interlude or “Dull Life”’s haunting guitar shifting into a bold and determined chorus.

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Every member added something distinct; Karen O balanced grit with tenderness more seamlessly than ever, Nick Zinner blended his guitar fuzz with a host of sleek, icy synths and Brian’s drumming added thrilling momentum. The synths brought fresh twists to their sound and helped build on the balladry “Maps” did so well.

Something about It’s Blitz! sounds all this time later, even if it makes such a great time capsule. Maybe it’s the less obvious execution of the electro-pop influence: while I can enjoy most forms of this, including the kind synthwave that lives and breathes flashy eighties kitsch, It’s Blitz! doesn’t sound that ‘eighties’ to me in the end. I don’t know if it’s the critics overstating on the mere fact they dared to include synths (as expected for critics of the time + guitar snobs in general) or the sheer personality of the album.

Ten years on I’ve realized how much It’s Blitz! influenced my taste: the love of synths, fierce rhythms, genuine attitude, mixing beauty with distortion. While their debut remains incredible, it sometimes overshadows the accomplishment of their third album. With today being its tenth anniversary, It’s Blitz! is overdue for celebration.

 

hidden treasure

Gossip – Arkansas Heat EP (2002)

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garage punk / punk rock

More like this – Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Fever To Tell + Self-titled EP + Machine EP; X-Ray Spex, Gossip’s “Fire With Fire

I have a theory that Gossip were the Arkansan equal of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and this EP is the closest they got in sound. There’s the unique and dynamic female singer in Beth Ditto, their later pop era, their indie rock breakthrough phase, and this early, very Fever To Tell EP. This isn’t a negative comparison; I’m convinced we don’t have enough like YYY’s, so I welcome it. After all, it’s been tricky for me to find much else that truly shares Fever To Tell’s special brand of  punk chaos, or at least without overdoing the edginess + noise. This made Arkansas Heat both a throwback and a breath of fresh air.

Through the whole EP the guitar and drums make a persistent racket as Beth Ditto yowls and quivers over them with exciting intensity. It’s the opposite of the more stylish approach in later projects like her excellent solo EP but true to her range as a singer, she pulls it off just as well.

Every song except the 10-minute “Take Back The Revolution” is over within 2 minutes, making it a fun and digestible listen. Even better is how they made it so catchy despite this brevity. “Revolution” drags a little too much, of course, but skip it about halfway through and it’s an addictive 14-minute burst of energy. I just wish they put out more like this in their early days.

hidden treasure · Unique samples in mainstream music

Bananarama – “Look On The Floor (Hypnotic Tango)”, 2005 (interpolation of My Mine – “Hypnotic Tango”)

Long story short I wound up listening to Bananarama’s 2000s album Drama awhile back out of curiosity. It’s a surprisingly good album seeing how this was long past their chart-topping prime in the 80s. The lyrics are nothing special, being the usual love+partying topics, but overall it makes for very pleasant poppy background music. Plus, a couple of songs sound like Goldfrapp (!!!) so you know I’m there.

Another surprise was that one of my favorites, “Look On The Floor”, interpolates the chorus from the cult Italo-disco single “Hypnotic Tango”. What I love is how they give it more of a mellow warmth as opposed to the more uptempo original. If you love Italo, it’s sure to sound familiar:

Look on the floor

And all is spinning around

Someone told me this was just a dance

Then take a chance and I’ll give you more

Do you really think we have a chance?