Listening Post #8

by Jack Reid

This week we bring a bit of a special edition, if you will, of the Listening Post. I’m Jack and I’ll be your guest columnist today. I’ll be highlighting some of the best, under-appreciated tracks of the year, to desperately try to make sure that all of you get to say you called it when they break big in 2015. So, try to shake out that great stonking hangover and have a listen to these songs from the year gone by. I’ll try not to speak too loudly.

1. Taylor Swift - Style

What on earth are you talking about, I hear you say. Taylor Swift isn’t some upstart who just put her first song on SoundCloud, you promised us fresh meat! Well, dear reader, I posit that *this* Taylor Swift is brand new in 2014. This unashamedly feminist, media-challenging Taylor Swift arrived in 2014 in the run up to her new album, 1989 (a pop tour de force, by the way).

We’ve spoken about Taylor Swift plenty on PearShaped already, and I remain skeptical that Swift has “stopped writing songs about boys”. One reason I’m skeptical is because my pick from the album is Style, a song that I’m told is about Harry Styles, his hair and attire, and his reckless driving style. When I went to verify this, I found that I wasn’t alone in my search for the truth.

Style is a really catchy synth-pop influenced track with an incredibly infectious chorus. It should be lauded even on the principle that it makes me enjoy listening to a song about Harry stupid Styles. “I heard you’ve been out and about with some other girls…”. Really dull stuff and yet for some reason I can’t stop listening to it.

2. Tropics - Blame

Tropics slides into the “sad and soulful white boy singing over electronic beats” category, which I am very partial to (see also: James Blake, Spooky Black). Tropics has been putting out a steady stream of releases for a couple of years now. They’re all consistently good, but for whatever reason none of them have ever gotten that boost into the mainstream. Well, that is until Blame got played by Lauren Laverne on BBC Radio 6, and then by SOHN on Radio 1 the very next night.

It seems that Tropics is finally getting some traction. Good. It’s time this mopey little guy got some recognition for his sad crooning and spacious production, which I find mightily pleasing on the ears.

3. MØ - Slow Love

I’m tempted to put MØ in a similar box to Grimes. Both super weird in their own ways, they bridge the gap between really out-there synth-based music and widely palatable pop. MØ in particular has that hipster cred of being more popular in non-English speaking countries such as her native Denmark, and Belgium, than she is in say, the UK or US.

This track is the most accessible on her latest album, which won a lot of awards this year, but is yet to convince me of its viability as a consistently enjoyable release. The editor flagged this track up for me, and I’m glad she did because this track is so refreshingly different to what’s out there at the moment. It’s got laid back tropical vibes in the instrumentation and MØ’s high falsetto vocals haunting over the top of it all.

4. Azealia Banks - Chasing Time (Pham Flip)

As an Azealia Banks supporter when it comes to the Iggy v. Banks flame war, I was a bit bummed out when Azealia’s latest came out hobbled by some really crappy production. The chorus that has an amazing hook is totally ruined by busy and indistinct instrumentation.

Enter Pham, who provides a solid remix that isn’t showy or obnoxious. Instead, Pham frames Banks’ awesome vocals with beats that ride right along with her flow rather than rattling away in the background like the original track does. So, ditch the original and enjoy this version that puts everything back where it should have been in the first place.

5. Broken Bells - Medicine

Thank goodness for Danger Mouse, the man behind this revolving door super band. You’ve got Danger Mouse on production and beats, The Shins’ James Mercer on lead vocals and guitar, and when performing live, you’ve also got Cigar’s Jon Sortland, and Them Hills’ Dan Elkan. It’s a pretty high stack of talent, and it shows.

Despite how much the odds were stacked in After The Disco’s favour, it was actually a pretty mixed album. Apart from a couple of bright tracks like the titular track and the one I’m about to mention, I’d argue that this release was pretty patchy and frankly, dull. However, Medicine is great from start to finish. It’s got some old fashioned rock and roll sensibilities mixed in there, and hooks that stick with you for days.