two delicious pops
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.

 

This week I heard both of my favourite pop albums of the year. Okay, it's only August. But I think it unlikely that anything will unseat these babies. They're not just sugar-sweet -- they're "Sugar Sugar" sweet.

Robyn - "Bum Like You". I mentioned Robyn on Monday, pointing you all to "Be Mine" at PopText. I then saw that Matt had posted "Crash and Burn Girl" at Fluxblog. But look, and this is important - this album is fantastic. You really oughta hear it. I think I probably hated Robyn before this week. The radio single from her last album, all those years ago, was a boring pink smear. The video? No, not exactly my thing. And maybe I'd still dislike this Swedish pipsqueak if I were to see her on the tube. But in the face of albums like this - melodic, glowing, full of surprises, - who cares? Who cares.

There's beats and strings, there's dry-voiced asides, there's melody and counterpoint and then these sudden splashes of beautiful harmony. The choruses are so plentiful that you'll forget them and then break into a smile each time a song comes back over repeat. It's truly great pop music. It's like the stuff of Lennon, McCartney, Robinson, Merritt, Harrison, Holly. Yeah, for real.

If you weren't persuaded by the synths and strings of "Be Mine" or "Crash and Burn Girl", well then maybe try this one on. "Bum Like You" is guitar - ringing, dinging, empty basement electric guitar. Robyn's sick of it. She's sick of him - of "you". But she's also kinda still in love. You know how it is.

So Robyn sings. Maybe she starts sitting but soon she's standing. She's a smoker, the rascal, but she smoked her last cigarette earlier this morning. Now she's just listening to the creak of her leather boots, she's singing. She's got a sheet of lyrics in her hands, scribbled out. Lyrics about mittens, about pie.

She sings "your car's a dump and you're broke," but I love the way there's this instant aside, this quiet spoken lovesick doleful shrug - "But that's alright."

Later Robyn takes the song into studio. We add overdubs, so that the song's not sad. We add an acoustic guitar, so we'll hear that fret squeak, fingers on strings, the noise of hesitation. And we add drums. Such simple drums - no synths, no mad beatz. But with those first bass drum thumps, gosh, the chorus has got me by the lapels and it's holding me so close that I can't look away from Robyn's eyes, the song's acheing sentiment.

Is this a love song? Is it a break-up song? Is it a fantasy?

No - it's just an exchange of looks.

[Inexplicably, absurdly, there's no clear word of a UK/US release. But sooner or later, it's gotta happen. In the meantime, see Robyn's website]

----

Sigur Rós - "Hoppipolla". Iceland's biggest boy-band are back, and Takk is a doozy. Agaetis Byrjun is one of my favourite albums in the world, such a joyful and mysterious confluence of post-rock and pop, swashes of sound that resolve into sing-along melodies, reveries, themes. ( ) was much more of a muddle, like all the band's pop bits had been drowned in the Arctic ocean. Torrid, turgid, overwrought. Gems of beauty, but all of it swathed in "difficult" bits. The album wasn't just high-concept (and dull), it was also stricken. There were dense, tense, knitted emotions at play, hard to pluck out of the churn. I think I might love it if I were to hear it at precisely the right moment, everything twisted in me according to a similar weather.

Here's a diagram:

ARTY/TORMENTED ---------- balance ---------- POP/GLAD

( ) ---------- Agaetis Byrjun ---------- Takk

Takk is everything that the last album was not. It's happy, it's stupid, it's clearly and blindingly beautiful, it's without silly pretenses. It's pure pop, glacier-huge. The songs glow then they shine then they combust. Coldplay look like insects next to this crew. They look like bugs. Because Sigur Ros are the Light Brigade if the Light Brigade were as awesome as their name suggests. They're collapsing continents and exploding blues, they're singing goofball unsubtle songs that make the sky shake in its cloudy foundations.

"Hoppipolla" is my favourite tune in an album full of joyful climaxing tunes. Everything's wrapped up in a solar shimmer of strings and drum reverb, and for the first couple minutes you think that maybe that's all there will be - warped Icelandic vocals, an inane-and-lovely keyboard line, flurrying strings, smacking percussion. So when things go quiet you wonder what could happen. Faster? Louder? Well, yes - they sure as hell know the tricks. But first, counterpoint! Swirl! Windows are opened in places that you didn't know windows could be. (In your shoes, in the backs of your hands, in the shadow of that bush.) And then there are horns - cresting, cheering, fanfaring. Yes! Yes! Hooray! Yes! Yay! Yes! Hooray! YES!

Only boring people hold their noses at songs that are so clearly glad, that play so uninhibitedly on our weak human minds, pushing the musical buttons that make my ribs spring open and lift my heart out on stupid little wings. Love it!

[pre-order at Amazon]

Posted by Sean at August 10, 2005 3:00 AM
Comments

I'm so glad that you love this album as much as I do, Sean. I think there's a huge number of people out there who would be into it, or even just part of it - it's really one of those records that has something for almost everyone. Hopefully this can end up in the US/UK before too long - I imagine that a lot of the trouble is that Robyn self-released the record and has to handle all of the business herself, and she's currently on tour.

Posted by Matthew at August 10, 2005 9:49 AM

You're right, Sean, the new Sigur Ros record is wonderful.

I've liked a lot of their stuff in the past, but this is sweeter and less foreboding than anything that they have done before. As with their other releases, you can just get lost in the songs.

It's a good place to be.

See you, Sean,

Ross.

Posted by Ross at August 10, 2005 11:23 AM

Both of these tracks are excellent! I had given up or SR after () - I'm glad to see (via your handy chart) that they've made an about-face.

The Robyn track is excellent as well. I missed when you posted the other Robyn track(s) - I'll have to go back and look.

Posted by brooks at August 10, 2005 11:28 AM

I agree with you about the Sigur Ros album, Sean. I've stopped myself listening to the stream at http://scenestars.net/takk/index.php?autoplay=1 so I can savour it in full quality when it comes out, but any readers who want convincing should follow the link.

Posted by dymbel at August 10, 2005 12:21 PM

Well, well...

When I read about Robyn and "Bum Like You" I thought, "what, hey! that song I don't recall". I checked the playlist of Robyn's latest and found no such song. Hm. I checked an online record store and saw the song in their listing. Hm, again.

To make a medium-sized story really short, the album I'd downloaded missed that one song.
Probably would never have noticed if I hadn't read the praise-text on your site/weblog.

Had I never stumbled upon your site/weblog, I would never have known.

Fancy that.

Posted by krihag at August 10, 2005 12:50 PM

The Robyn love continues.... It just grows on me with every listen!

Posted by Abby at August 10, 2005 2:50 PM

Ummm, well, someone's got to be the voice of dissent here. Yes, the little "but that's alright" aside is really nice, but for the most part this struck me as fairly disposable, like a modern day Pebbles, perhaps.

I'm not giving up. The song's absurdly catchy, and I'll commission it for former study, but between Robyn and Annie I wonder if the appeal of these singers are their innate Eurocity, the fact they're hard to find. Would these be as compelling if their work was homegrown, on J Records and blaring out of any given Virgin Megastore? Because really, the line dividing the two doesn't seem that wide. Granted, they've got a marginally fresh asthetic, but I don't hear enough to distinguish these songs from your average top 40 fodder, from this decade or the '80s.

And it's not any fear of pop either, 'cause that Sigur Ros song is golden. Thanks, Sean.

Posted by chris at August 10, 2005 4:54 PM

Wow, that Sigur Ros track is more melodic and song-oriented than anything I was expecting. Sweet!

Posted by angryrobot at August 10, 2005 5:40 PM

Chris, I think your comment falls apart when you consider that most everyone excited about Robyn, Annie, and other obscure Europop artists are also very big on a lot of Top 40 hits from America, ie Kelly Clarkson, Ciara, Gwen Stefani, etc.

Posted by Matthew at August 10, 2005 6:30 PM

You're right about needing to be in a certain state of mind to enjoy all of ( ). But when you are, it can just crush you. I can attest to that.

As for Takk..., I promised myself I wouldn't listen to a single song until I've got the thing in my hands.

...I'm never going to make it.

Posted by Ian at August 10, 2005 7:01 PM

Ahh, that'd do it then. Thanks, Matthew.

Posted by chris at August 10, 2005 7:29 PM

Yeah, Chris -- I don't much like the Annie album. It shoves me around in a way I don't like. I think that there are some people who will listen to Annie (or Robyn) but not to Britney, as the former are somehow more "indie", but the bulk of people cheering for each are fans of pop, plain and simple.

My suggestion to you (and this isn't mean to be patronising,) is simply to stop thinking about what "divides" this from music you think you're supposed to dislike, and simply consider whether it's really good. I am very happy that one day I decided to stop trying to ignore the fact that I loved Avril Lavigne's music.

Posted by Sean at August 10, 2005 9:13 PM

Oh, and I really appreciate all the other comments as well. It's been a bit of a dry-spell for comments here, lately (I know I shouldn't complain), and it's always so lovely to hear how the readers feel. It likes to know we're shaking things loose down there.

Matthew - While there's no reason to think that Robyn will chart very well in the UK or US (see MIA/Annie), it does seem inevitable that the album will come out elsewhere. Robyn has a profile in North America, and here we just love europop. So we'll just sit tight. On ILM I see that the album was breaking a month or two ago, so this is clearly a slow build.

Posted by Sean at August 10, 2005 9:16 PM

The song is a smile after a brief nap at 5AM on a Pacific beach; enjoyed next to a loved one. Much thanks for it!
I seen them play last night and was quite dissapointed that they didn't play more of their new songs...it was great though. The opening act (the quintet of her majesties) was starkingly wonderful! I was perhaps a bit too ecstatic to see the saw and wine glasses played to sheer movement. Vury Mum-ish I'd have to say, but that didnt keep my lips from culring up. Thanks again, cheers!

Posted by cory at August 11, 2005 1:46 AM

How do they do that ? Sigur Ros always write songs which make you think : this is what I want to hear at the best moments of my life (or when I die - depending on the songs). And it doesn't even sound too much ... I am probably going to play this song 365 times in the next two days. thanks !

Posted by Garrincha at August 11, 2005 4:28 AM

Man, people shouldn’t be so caught up in genres. I mean, I’ve chatted to lots of people about music, but never have I been asked: “Hey, what genres do you listen to?” I like to music, thanks. And I listen to music I like.
But I do have a solution for people who are tied to their genres, and who feel because Robyn is pop that she must be inferior. Pop music gets such a bad rap. “Just pop.” I have heard that many times. “It’s just pop music.” Never “Oh, that’s just indie rock.”
But that brings me neatly to my solution. Devise a new genre. For those who need that kind of support, that kind of filing system. Indie pop.
Indie pop.
Robyn is indie pop. I can tell. Now, I haven’t heard the whole album but I’m willing to bet ‘Bum Like You’ is the closest she gets to a ballad. A Britney Spears ‘Stronger’, if you know what I mean. ‘Bum like you’ is almost indie rock, it’s so indie. Franz Ferdinand should do a cover. Indie pop. Should get Matthew Fluxblog on it. Make it official.

Posted by Robert at August 11, 2005 7:00 AM

Anyone else noticed that @ 2.15 in 'Bum Like You', the guitar plays the melody of Bronski Beat's 'Smalltown Boy' for 5 seconds? It may sound short but it was one of the firs things that stood out about the record when I first heard it.

It's such a great record - I think it's the best on the album, and I really hope she does get a UK release, even though I suspect it wouldn;t do great.

Posted by Geoff at August 11, 2005 7:12 AM

I like your conviction, Robert! And I'd be with you on "indie pop", maybe, except that "indie pop" already means something. It's indie-rock style pop music. Maybe like Robyn, I guess, but much more often like Belle & Sebastian or Yo La Tengo's "Centre of Gravity". So... back to the drawing board! :)

Posted by Sean at August 11, 2005 7:12 AM

I didn't dl Robyn initially but the fuss here made me check it out and, four plays in, I'm getting rather fond of this. Neat lyric, pretty catchy tune and, yay, good Bronski Beat spot.

Posted by dymbel at August 11, 2005 10:42 AM

Yeah, it hit me that indie pop might mean something else later, after I posted. But the idea remains.
Independent pop.
A self released pop record.
Needs more kudos. And whats better than a whole genre?
Nu-pop.
Pop II - the sequel
Damn it, I need help. Professional help.

Posted by Anonymous at August 11, 2005 11:21 AM

Pop II is taken, too.

Then again, you've kind of lost me now. When it comes to the music - notes in your ears, - who cares about the economics that generated them. Independent label, affiliated label, megacorp - if it's good toonz it's good toonz, no?

Posted by Sean at August 11, 2005 12:00 PM

Pop II is taken! I need to get out from under my rock.

But what I'm saying is that it doesn't matter, what-so-ever, how music is produced or what genre it falls in, or if Wallmart stocks it or whatever. But people seem to care about this stuff.
Emo kids. What the hell is emo? I dunno. Isn't all music emotional? But there you go. A whole society of kids with a name who listen to certain types of music and who dress the same.
So, what's to do when these kids ignore perfectly good music just because of it's genre.
Invent new cool genres, that attract fans who would otherwise not bother.
Sounds silly, and I admit, that it may very will be but if someone has the right to complain that this is pop music, then I have a right to suggest ways to trick them into listening to pop music.

Posted by Robert at August 11, 2005 1:36 PM

Scott Plagenhoef at Pitchfork was calling it Fluxpop, which is nice but makes me feel sorta uncomfortable cos it's hard for me to use that phrase without feeling massively deluded.

Posted by Matthew at August 12, 2005 12:02 AM

You know, I think it should be called that. It would be funny when record companies try to cash in on the new craze that it 'Fluxpop'. And then, through million dollar reasearch, they discover it was named after a Mp3 Blog. A kick ass one at that. So, they weep into their Armani Satchels, the full truth being revealed like a slap in the face.
That blogs have more power than those suits, who are paid the big bucks, sitting on piles of dead artists. And they might change their minds about sueing music lovers... and might embrace one or two, instead.
Yep, sometimes delusion is a necessary side effect to changing the world....
Fluxpop.

Posted by Robert at August 12, 2005 6:48 AM

I'm cool with that, so long as I get to call something Gramofolk. (ha!)

Posted by Sean at August 12, 2005 7:02 AM

Gramofolk would blow minds....
My mind is already plastered over the wall behind me.
Yeah, I'm going to give this a good thinking over, devise what kind of folk would be called Gramofolk... Feel free to beat me to the punch and do something yourself.

Posted by Robert at August 12, 2005 8:48 AM

I think probably it would be any song that meets the following requirements:

1) Contains mandolin, banjo, ukelele, or glockenspiel.
2) Is awesome.

Posted by Sean at August 12, 2005 8:55 AM

GRAMOFOLK totally works for me! Hopefully people wouldn't mis-hear it as "Granda Folk."

Posted by Matthew at August 12, 2005 9:23 AM

I am totally there.
Anything that 'is awesome' is good in my book.
The name of my book - "Anything that is Awesome"...
The coincidence is as staggering as how great the music will be.

Posted by Robert at August 12, 2005 10:03 AM

Thanks for the ID Geoff. I _knew_ I knew that guitar bit from something, and it was going to drive me crazy if I didn't find out.

Posted by Hillary at August 12, 2005 3:07 PM

"Because Sigur Ros are the Light Brigade if the Light Brigade were as awesome as their name suggests."

That sentence just kills me, it's just so perfect and right on. I think they should put it on a sticker for the front of their cd.

Posted by ghost at August 12, 2005 6:51 PM

i want this robyn song but it's not there anymore :(

Posted by wes at December 11, 2005 9:50 PM

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