Any other hour of the day the best song around for quite a while has most definitely been "Hot In Herre". As was thrillingly confirmed at a 21st birthday party a few weeks ago, and then at a uni ball, and then at a sleazy night club (and, really, anywhere I've been drinking and dancing these past months) there's precious few other pop songs that will actually make you run to the dancefloor when you hear it (that old warhorse "How Many Licks?" excepted). "Hot In Herre" is like that though, because its entire construction aims toward an idea of perfect ubiquity - the song that nobody can deny. The accusations of laurel-resting to all parties involved are partly justified, but I've never heard of a master craftsman who produced their best work on the run; the perfect product requires some level of consolidation and a lot of practice runs. Thus "Hot In Herre" is not one of those visionary next-step pop singles that blogs like mine usually rave about, but rather a grand summation of all that has been great in recent pop.
What I see in Nelly that attracts me is a distillation of some of the great things you find in other commercial rappers. Or maybe it's more a case of Nelly flaunting one major selling-point, which is coming up with great, funny and well-performed hooks; as this ability is rarely found in isolation Nelly's overwhelming focus throws it into sharp relief. You can't argue with lines like "good gracious/ass is bodacious" or "I think my butt gettin' big!", with ideas like Jedi Mind Control as killer chorus, with delivery so high-pitched and wavery with enthusiasm. Like Missy on her awesome new "Work It", Nelly piles quotable moments on top of eachother so thickly that the song loses any real sense of narrative or flow. It's real pop: inhaling and exhaling a succession of NOWs that make it seem potentially endless - there could easily be another verse, then another refrain, then another verse, then another refrain, etc. etc. Some DJs solve the problem by rewinding it and playing again. No-one ever seems to complain.
Nelly's only half of the story, of course. By now I should be ultra-sick of The Neptunes, particularly in their stock-standard churn-em-out guise, but their work on 'Hot In Herre' is for me up there with their best. Oddly understated, this is nonetheless slinkiest, most irresistible version of their formula future-pop. They succeed here by getting even more conventional: unlike, say, "Work It Out", there's very little of the fracturous falter-funk that is their sonic call-card; instead "Hot In Herre" is all smooth edges, its syncopated rhythm quivering delicately around the central bass-burps with a polite precision. Less self-consciously 'live'-sounding than 'Work It Out' or especially Justin Timberlake's (excellent) 'Like I Love You', 'Hot In Herre' is nonetheless The Neptunes' most band-like moment: tight, controlled, happy to be merely (merely!) the rhythm section for Nelly's attention-grabbing performance.
But if it's almost a negation of the producer-auteur paradigm, there is still something eerily sinister about The Neptunes' work here, a deceptive repose that reveals little but implies much; I keep waiting for the track to brock out and go mental, and the fact that it never does makes it even better. The closest it comes, after the glitzy intro, is during one of the last refrains, just before the three minute mark, when the beat drops out momentarily, and Nelly's voice keeps going unconcerned like a coyote running off a cliff, before the rhythm clicks back so naturally, so artfully, that it inspires as much dancefloor pandemonium as a full-on breakdown. For this, and so many other reasons, single of the year no question.
1. Junior Boys - High Come Down (Mix) "Gary Numan meets Timbaland" apparently. I'm saying (The Blue Nile + Kompakt) X Dem 2. This is another one of those bands, like Coloma, like Horsepower Productions, that I had imagined exactly long before I heard, and predictably I love it. With its shuddering rhythm and cut-up, fragile vocal glimmers, "High Come Down (Mix)" is so fractured and wiry that it almost approaches a drill'n'bass style deconstruction/subversion of form. Actually, it merely adheres to the timeless rule of elastic horizons: keep pushing at what constitutes groove, what becomes song, and it will bend with you, the tension becoming greater and more delicious with every successive stretch until it snaps you back somewhere completely different. It's a tradition of "implied songs all the sweeter for their lack of solid presence", but one of the many things I like about the Junior Boys is they don't even need the tradition - they can craft more than fine enough "proper" songs. They're just being a bit naughty and flirtatious. Go and listen now.
2. Autobianchi - All Around (Everybody's Kissing) Kompakt themselves are better than ever, and "All Around" tempts even more pop + dance equations. Filtering the heavy intensity Moroder-groove of decksman The Modernist's "Abi '81" through lithe, airy pop seems an unlikely proposition, but it's the sort of thing that Kompakt are increasingly adept. As dicerse a collection as ever, Total 4 nonetheless suggests an en masse resumption of the trajectory that Saint Etienne began to veer from after "He's On The Phone", containing feats of equipoise where science and tears and glitter get smeared all over eachother. Right at this moment - and it's majorly subject to change - Autobianchi, with their chugging bassline and strobe-like filter-stabs and new-dawn vocals, are the first among equals.
3. Missy Elliot - Work It = self-evident, no? I've still not worked out what I want to say about "Work It", but you should already know it's great so there's no real urgency.
4. Fallacy & Plus One - Special It seems a bit unfair to single out an individual track on Plus One's amazing introduction to UK hip hop Champion Sounds (remind me to return to it later) but "Special" seems to ask for extra attention. A sudden sideways swerve into hyperactive garage-rap, "Special" isn't content with merely upping the tempo. Instead we get punishing soca-inspired beats, twinkling sitars and pattering tablas, and especially an amazing MC performance, an explosion of high-pitched, fast-paced enthusiasm. What "Special" proves to me is how attached I am to garage MC-ing as a style of rap, that it's not just a functional response to the pressures of tempo and dancing. On an album of great rapping, this chant-heavy bonanza ("Fallacy on track! Make some noise you wanna wanna wheel it back!") is what I'm immediately drawn to.
5. Linkin Park - Enth E Nd (Kutmasta Kurt Remix ft. Motion Man) Nu-metallers love Primo, quite apart from "N 2 Gether Now". Maybe Premier's style - the ebb and flow, the lazily hard-hitting beats - is the closest hip hop gets to rock spiritually-not-sonically. RZA is too hermetic, Dre too clipped, Timbaland too jerky, The Neptunes too funk; in comparison you can easily imagine kids in basements throwing stuff at the wall and nodding their heads angrily too even the most aristocratic Primo production. And at his most rugged, well, M.O.P. are already an honorary nu-metal group, aren't they? Kutmaster Kurt's remix of "In The End" is obviously Primo himself, but it reeks with his influence. A wonderfully creepy cut-up guitar-riff pushes "Enth E Nd", and even if you hate the original you'll be entranced. If you quite like the original as I do, then this new context allows its qualities to sneak up on you. I start thinking, "gee, that rap about time is pretty great, and I bet it would sound even better if I had something in my head that I could smash." And that whining chorus, intermittently looped in and out, becomes the sweetest bit of songbird melody you've heard.
Also great: Radio 4 - Struggle (don't you just lovegabba.net?) Beenie Man ft. Lady Saw - Bossman Underworld - Headset Skitz & Die ft. Dynamite & Rodney P - It's On Schaeben & Voss - The World Is Crazy 2
Shakedown - At Night My boyfriend and I have completely different sleep patterns: if he doesn't get to sleep by 10:30 or so he has a shocking headache the next day; if I try to go fall asleep before 1:00am I tend to lie in bed all night, only half-aware that I'm awake but certainly not sleeping. Since the civilised world tends to adhere to his sleeping patterns rather than mine, I can be somewhat difficult in the morning. Not surly, really, but dazed, slow, not really there.
So I sympathise with Ms. Shakedown when she complains, in that ever so saccharine breathy sigh of hers, that "some days just don't feel right... I think I feel much better at night." Ms. Shakedown and I share a certain understanding of the way in which the young body wants to work, which is to go against the grain of nature in the pursuit of a mindless expenditure of energy, to gear up for depletion, and to live in the red the rest of the time. And why wouldn't you go all out when you've got "At Night" playing in the background? Sprightly yet slinky, texturiffic but ever-so-smooth, "At Night" is pure 1am music, sweat-and-make-up smeared deleriant, one vodka shot too many. Like Kylie's "Can't Get You Out Of My Head", MRI's "Tied To The Eighties" and Yoko Mono's "Higher Than Phunk (ie. three of the best dance tunes of the last year), "At Night" aims for an oddly metallic sexiness, not tech-house so much as prog-disco, its trancey jitter-riffs rubbing up sensuously against the coke dazzle of the funk guitar and the spring-heeled house beats. This is night music because it's machine music - "At Night", despite its winsome flutter, is pop as pure compulsiveness. Hence the way Ms. Shakedown's girlish refrain itself becomes a jabbing jitter-riff, puncturing her own easy songful narrative as if to say, "well, after all what does it matter? I'm merely serving a ruthlessly functional purpose."
And yet "At Night" is defiantly not night music for me. Instead it's been the song I've pulled out more than any other these past few months as I've stumbled out of bed and attempted to motivate myself to go to uni; the song that, between the hours of seven and nine on any given day of the week, is my pop song of the year. Because this is music that doesn't allow sluggishness, apathy, sloth, even when I've got a bloody good excuse. And because Ms. Shakedown and I share a certain understanding.