Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Hot Mix 2014: #60 - 51

This is a weird page. They're probably all going to get weirder from this point forward. We've been saying that literally anything is ok to say about these songs as long as it takes up space, and so at least one of these descriptions ended up being absurdly long for no apparent reason, and another one is just like quoting a bit from a stand-up CD - one that's kind of embarrassing but at the time it felt right. Also, we broke our stride due to laziness stuff. But whatever. We're halfway done. 50 more songs after this...

| Hot Mix 2014 on Spotify |

| #100 - 91 | #90 - 81 | #80 - 71 | #70 - 61 | #60 - 51 |
| #50 - 41 | #40 - 31 | #30 - 21 | #20 - 11 | #10 - 1 |

60. Nicki Minaj featuring PTAF “Boss Ass Bitch (Remix)”
Pitchfork likes this one enough that it placed decently well on their 2014 faves. The blurb writer's approach shouldn't have surprised anyone considering P4k's more recent slant towards feminist music criticism: "It’s likely that many dudes who came around to Nicki early this year have already lost interest, having deduced that The Pinkprint won’t actually be Illmatic With Tits." Likely, sure, and obviously sad if true. As the past year of news feed algorithms continued their bias towards feminist essays, we found it upsetting to witness non-feminist circles watering down the term's true impact, until it was eventually trending with enough hashtags that someone working at MTV was influenced to have Beyonce sing in front of 30-foot letters spelling "feminist" in all caps.* (Hah, you actually thought that was Bey's idea?)

The louder perspective in our heads is always the one that recognizes Nicki Minaj as the most exciting and best current lyricist in hiphop. And we shouldn't have to follow that up with the phrase "regardless of gender" because that phrase sucks.
This was the first new song we heard in 2014 way back on 01.01.14. "Boss Ass Bitch" arrived with an immediate impact courtesy of the sample's crushing minimalist attack (doing wonders for our New Years hangover). This not only inspired a few lyrical peaks in the "badass" category but also showed her artistically turning to a new chapter. Frequent homages to Biggie weren't just limited to "Four Door Aventador" (reviewed a few pages back), but at least one web source also noted the first 3 of her "10 Boss-Ass-Bitch Commandments" (with #4-#10 coming soon, hopefully). The song also kicked off Pinkprint anticipation. Throughout the year, the gusto in her guest-verses felt supplanted by sadness, which only made the 11-and-a-half month waiting game seem even longer. But now it's here, and for the moment it sounds like it might be her most consistent record. The lows aren't nearly as low, but also the highs aren't as high, making it also her least impressive. But either way, her genius is present enough that it still has a very strong shot at placing in our (eventual) top 20 of the year.

And rull quick before we close the door on this one, here's some excerpts from probably our favorite Rap Genius annotation of 2014:
- "Good pussy is pussy that is warm (hot) and wet, which describes a tropical environment, which is where Nicki wants to vacay to."
- "You hoes need to get vaginal rejuvenation on your pussy to make it tight again!"
- "The line is too long to get with Nicki’s pussy, so you should make a reservation."

(*On a personal note: As someone who has a phobia of signs with large scary letters, I found it horribly frightening and difficult to watch.)

59. Angel Olsen “Hi-Five”
In the January 1999 issue of SPIN, Sasha Frere-Jones described Rufus Wainwright as "a singer/songwriter, in that order - a rarer animal than you think." At least one good example of this arrives every few years, but rarely with Angel Olsen's overwhelmingly intense sadness. And it's not like her songs aren't awesome. But Jesus... Not many recent songwriters express as much pain in their hearts simply through singing, an element that sets her apart from Laura Cantrell or Lucinda Williams. She's actually a lot closer to the elite inner circle with homegirls Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette. "Hi-Five" might be the one song that made it toughest to keep from filing her album under "alt-country" (as opposed to "indie-rock with C&W vox").

58. Grass Is Green “Scattering Ram”
TMK: Tell us a little about "Scattering Ram."
Devin McKnight: "That's a J.Weiss tune. A lil' Jesse Weiss: The man, the myth, the legend."
Andy Chervenak: "'Scattering Ram' is sort of kinky for some reason. It's about some weird dude and a sexual repression kinda thing."
Devin: "It's got my Talking Heads solo at the end. It's a complete ripoff. I didn't mean to."
TMK: You think so?
Devin: "Well, Jonah from Krill was like 'what is that from?' And then, Luke from Krill figured it out and verified the song."
TMK: Which song is it from?
Devin: "I don't remember what it's called, but it's got this guitar part with a harmonic thing and this whammy bar thing. I knew it was from something. It makes me feel good that I was mistakenly referencing something that's widely known."

57. Schoolboy Q “Break the Bank”
Even if the title of the song wasn't "Break the Bank," the music already sounds suspenseful enough to soundtrack the perfect heist. You know how every time you watch the movie Heat, you're like "I wanna do that!" You just wanna be runnin' down Main Street with an AK47 screaming "WHERE'S THE VAN? THE VAN WAS SUPPOSED TO BE HERE." That guy on the computer is like "Gimme a minute. Dude, I need one more minute to hack into the mainframe." There's always that guy on the team who's a last minute replacement. He's not one of the original gang, but one of the other guys vouches for him. "Dude, trust me. This guy's cool. He's solid and he's cool." But he's not cool. He doesn't really say anything ever, and then at one point he's like "Let's kill these bitches." (This is a way better bit than we remembered.)

56. Dej Loaf “Try Me”
Viral-crossover jams are injecting a freshness into hiphop stations unlike any other point throughout the 2010s. Radio programming hasn't felt this adventurous in at least a decade, even pushing a song as weird as OG Maco's "U Guessed It" to #90 on the Hot 100. Does every generation of hiphop radio get the "Funk Dat" it deserves? And should we expect more of them to sound like a prank from the OFWGKTA kids?

Hailing from the freshly non-bankrupt mean streets of Detroit, Dej Loaf ultimately became the most beloved of the 2014 crossovers, even encouraging Buddyhead (of all places) to reserve some web space for expressing their appreciation. Aside from Pharrell and Pusha T, it's the only hiphop review they've written in almost two years. (The website's not quite as active as it was 10 years ago, but honestly we're just pumped it's still around.) The review's actually pretty informative. Apparently, "Try Me" was discovered after Drake quoted a line on his insta, ultimately leading Dej Loaf to a multi-million dollar deal with Columbia Records, enabling her to quit her job as a janitor at "the Chrysler plant." Dream big.

55. Aphex Twin "minipops 67 [120.2] [source field mix]"
This is the song that gets stuck in the heads of every character in David O'Reilly's The External World, including the enormous penis that ejects from the fax machine. It sounds like little anthropomorphic dudes being bizarre and very matter-of-factly, as if it's the way things should be. A few noted the '90s-ness of Syro, which can really only be attributed to how strongly RDJ's music is connected to that era despite resting outside of the range of decade-association; "Girl/Boy Song" is somehow both a distinct product of 1996 while also otherworldly enough to leave a blurred timestamp. "minipops 67" might sound ok on an album sequence alongside "Ventolin" or "Come to Daddy," but it just wouldn't be the same. There's one part in this that sounds like "Love Bites" by Def Leppard.

54. Katy Perry featuring Juicy J “Dark Horse”
In August 2013, two lead singles from two of the music's biggest names debuted very nearby each other. Accordingly, a PR strategy involving friendly competition was set in motion, including performances of Katy Perry's "Roar" and Lady Gaga's "Applause" at the 2013 VMAs. A few weeks later, the numbers returned with Katy hitting #1 while Gaga stalled at #4. This marked the start of a solid year where Katy found herself alone at the top with no actual competition, crowned with the heavyweight title of "biggest U.S. Top 40 singer" (up until she was dethroned in August 2014 when "Shake It Off" conveniently coincided with the the end of Prism's promo cycle). Katy Perry is now the only artist who's had the biggest song in the country at least once a year since 2010.

Despite Gaga's commendably tireless edginess, "Applause" exemplified a disappointing deficit of freshness that casual fans might have been expecting after Artpop failed to ride the momentum of her earlier megahits. Her efforts to set trends were never as sure of a bet as riding those that had already been set in motion, a large part of the formula that Max Martin and Dr. Luke have exploited to help ensure Katy's success for the past 7 years. She's not a chameleon so much as a conformist. She's all things to all people. Her hits are never behind nor ahead of the curve, frequently hitting while their trending elements are about 70% through their shelf life.

So now we're imagining a hypothetical scenario where Teenage Dream was released in 2008 and Prism in 2010. If the writing and production techniques on these albums were far less tired in those days, would these records be considered critical favorites? Would the hits from these albums have performed nearly as well 3 years earlier? Are we wrong to suggest that their success can be entirely attributed to timeliness? Is it possible that the success of these songs has anything to do with listeners growing accustomed to ephemeral trends?

Regarding that last question: It's entirely plausible that Dr. Luke and Benny Blanco collaborated on Ke$ha's "Tik Tok" right around the same time as what was considered its sister-jam, Katy's "California Gurls." And yes, Katy got stuck as the scapegoat. "Tik Tok" was released first to test the waters and also to introduce Ke$ha to the world with a fresh-sounding single, hitting #1 at the very beginning of 2010, while "California Gurls" hit #1 six months later. If "Tik Tok" hadn't been a success, "California Gurls" might not have been the album's lead single.

This special combination of safeness and freshness leads the list of reasons why "Dark Horse" was the quintessential 2014 pop song, molded by the cookie cutter of the year's trends more than any other. The minimal trap beat - sonically resembling Mike Will Made It - frames a robotic and lush chord progression in a minor key, vaguely resembling recent hits from Drake, M83 and Rihanna's "Diamonds" (another Benny Blanco hit from months prior). Juicy J was summoned for a cameo not long after the 8-minute "Bands a Make Her Dance (Chopped & Screwed)" went viral. This familiar combination of elements may have played a part in why "Dark Horse" has started to feel like it's been lingering around Top 40 and hiphop stations for the past 3 or 4 years.

These elements - the "safe" and timely ones - are actually not why it's one of the best songs of 2014. "Part of [Max Martin's] genius is knowing that little thing that takes a song from 80 percent to 100 percent." "Dark Horse" is all about the subtleties, the moments that revealed themselves months after the song's debut. Some of these occur within the vocal performance - tiny inflections that were probably not an accident, but could have been. The vocals in the verses are accompanied by little more than drums and a 4-note keyboard melody, leaving the chord structure to to the imagination of the listener, a technique that Jermaine Dupri used in Ghost Town DJs' "My Boo." These deep glimmering moments form the basis of the song's transcendence, outliving the shelf life of its trendy sheen.

53. Charli XCX “Gold Coins”

Ohhhh, we get it now. Gold coins as a METAPHOR, like when Waka Flocka says "I'm so hood rich" - although probably not as rich as that distorted acoustic guitar tone. Scrooge McDuck probably likes this song and pumps it while he goes for a dip in the money bin. Check out her Nardwuar interview: Adorable.

52. YG featuring Kendrick Lamar “Really Be (Smokin N Drinkin)”

We haven't seen YG in a Hot Mix since like 2010's "Toot It and Boot It," and he's still got those horrifying body tats. The "James Bond segue" chord makes an appearance (on what might be a Fender Rhodes), assisting the mysterious noiresque production in the verses. It sounds like Portishead's best impression of a Dirty South or a Ludacris beat.

51. Guerilla Toss “367 Equalizer”
G-Toss played about six bands before the close of SUNY Purchase's Culture Shock concert back in April, prior to both Lil B and Lightning Bolt. About 5 minutes into their set, it seemed like the majority of the audience had just started peaking on molly or some combination of uppers and hallucinogens. And without warning, shit got fucking INSANE. We don't remember if they played "367 Equalizer" at this show, but it's likely since it premiered online only a few weeks later. Either way, it exemplifies the effect they had over everyone in that enormous room, encouraging movement from all 5 senses at once, potentially inducing convulsions and wild fits. They are a 10-speed blender, and their favorite margarita mixes the first Liars album with the PCP freakouts from Black Dice's Repo. Whereas hot jams like "TV Spell" and "Smack the Brick" are on the smoothie or shake setting, "367 Equalizer" chops up the tiny ice cubes for the frozen drink setting. (We're not sure what this means, but we're leaving it.)

| Hot Mix 2014 on Spotify |

| #100 - 91 | #90 - 81 | #80 - 71 | #70 - 61 | #60 - 51 |
| #50 - 41 | #40 - 31 | #30 - 21 | #20 - 11 | #10 - 1 |

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