Sunday, December 26, 2010

Guiltless Pleasures, or, 2010's top albums

Goldfrapp takes album of the year.
My top 10 scrobbled albums of 2010 per again reveal that I am mostly out of synch with popular tastes, but who can blame me when the likes of Ke$ha and Katy Perry rule the chart? I like to go with a scrobbling recap rather than devising my own top 10 partly because I'm lazy but also because I like to consider everything current. That said, however, my favorite albums from this year are exactly where they should be on this list.

10 Christmas EP • Pet Shop Boys // Helped the boys retain their usual spot as most-played artist this year.

9 Information Society • Information Society // Had the big single back in the day but never got the full album until this year. The ballad "Repetition" is much better than I remembered.

8 Don't Stop / All Night EP • Annie // I'm throwing in the EP as well because I culled the best tracks from the two into one album of electro-pop goodness. It straddled the end of '09 and early '10, or it would have been closer to the top.

7 Kaleidoscope • Tiesto // The hardcore fans dismissed it as a pop sellout, so naturally I loved it, particulalry "I Will Be Here (Wolfgang Gartner Radio Edit)."

6 The Fame Monster • Lady GaGa // Whether you choose to view it as the second album or an EP, clever pop songs like "Bad Romance," "Monster" (how was this not a single?),  "Dance in the Dark" and "Telephone" make it essential.

5 La Roux • La Roux // La Roux put out one of the best Erasure albums of all time, and songs like "Fascination" and "As If By Magic" left me slobbering for more. To boot, it was gratifying to see that synthpop like "Bulletproof" can still be embraced by the wasteland of U.S. radio.

4 Fixin' to Thrill • Dragonette // I'm a sucker for melody and an '80s sensibility.

3 Body Talk • Robyn // Had the full album emerged earlier in the year, this sly dance album would have made a run at number one.

2 Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Darryl Hall and John Oates • The Bird and the Bee // Why didn't they just use the brilliant working title, Guiltless Pleasures? That sums it up perfectly in contrast to the bloated, over-compensating title it released under. Nevertheless, this concept worked, with The Bird and the Bee's electro lounge pop marrying perfectly with H&O's pop chestnuts. "One on One," with its mesmerizing synth filigrees, is a song that seems like it ought to be left alone, frozen in the perfect moody '80s production H&O bestowed upon it, but Bird and the Bee manage to create something equally evocative in its own way. However, for me, "She's Gone" is the crowning achievement here. I do wish there had been a less predictable song choice or two — throw me a "Missed Opportunity" or "Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid" for fun. Also around the same time they gave us a soundtrack offering, a very groovy cover of "I'm Into Something Good." Now, who's up for Interpreting the Masters Volume 2: A Tribute to Depeche Mode?

1 Head First • Goldfrapp // My expectations were lowered after the folktronic nirvana of Seventh Tree, but they needn't have been. Golfrapp veered back toward the dancefloor but did so with a set of hypnotic, danceable songs that reference the synth of '80s pop in a most satisfying way; I don't think I've heard music that is so satisfyingly now and 1985 at the same time. Brilliant stompers like "Rocket," "Believer" and "Alive" glisten alongside satisfying slow-burns like "Head First" and "Hunt." More, please.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

iTunes store extends song previews to 90 seconds (check your scrobbling)

You may have heard or noticed by chance, as I did, that Apple in the last few days has extended song previews from 30 to 90 (!) seconds in the iTunes store. The first time I noticed it, I did a double-take, thinking I had somehow accidentally bought the song.

One undesirable side effect that I noticed: In some cases, depending on the song length and your preferences settings in's Audio Scrobbler, the preview may be long enough to count the preview as a full play and add it to your profile on I've got my Scrobbler set at 75 percent to count a song as a full play, and that was enough to add two preview plays to my profile. For the stat-obsessed, this could be quite the nagging annoyance.

So, the result was Bananarama's "Baby It's Christmas" and Double You and Friends' cover of "Do They Know It's Christmas" from Super Dance Christmas Party Vol. 3 showed up on my history merely from listening to the iTunes samples. I deleted the scrobbles on principle (not because those song selections are anything of which one would be ashamed, of course).

On the plus side, a 90-second sample is a much better taste of a song — you're less likely to get those clueless samples that only feature the intro of a song or some middle breakdown that is unrepresentative of the whole — and an unexpectedly generous move on Apple's part.

Saturday, December 04, 2010


Katy Perry's Teenage Dream album has been nominated for a Grammy award for album of the year.

That's it, folks. It's all over. If she walks away with a Grammy, I'm quitting music.

If you're looking to nominate a pop album in this category, how does this trash get nominated over Lady Gaga's The Fame Monster?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Review: Teeth (2007)

Verdict: 4.0 out of 5

Teeth is one of the most twisted movies you'll ever see. Its subject matter, at once laughable and horrifying, is sufficiently scandalous that major movie chains wouldn't carry it. The story of our young heroine, a somewhat self-righteous "promise ring" wearer, is wickedly humorous as it skewers that mindset while she stumbles through a series of disastrous encounters with young men who want to get in her pants. The twist in this story is that she is in possession of a vagina dentata, a concept rooted in folk tales of many cultures, and it proves to be a weapon she can wield against masculine aggression. The movie drops none-too-subtle hints of the source of her situation as shots of a pair of enormous smokestacks near her home repeatedly appear , and her mother is dying, presumably of cancer. As fear builds in her of what she is, a mixture of dread and anticipation builds in the viewer for each successive encounter. And to the movie's credit, each tops the previous in over-the-top outrageousness. Whether or not you care about the feminist statement bubbling throughout, it's a surprisingly compelling shocker. And you will be shocked.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Review: The House of the Devil (DVD)

Verdict: 3.0 out of 5

If your fondest horror movie memories take you back to the early 1980s and movies like Halloween, you'll want to have a look at The House of the Devil, which meticulously recreates the look and feel of horror cinema of that era. Directed by Ti West, whose resume includes such nuggets as Cabin Fever 2, it also indulges in the nearly lost art (at least for the horror genre) of the slow burn, taking its sweet time to get to the payoff.

College student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), desperate for cash to pay her first month's apartment rent, snags a phone number for a babysitting gig from a bulletin board on campus. When she gets the job and shows up at the middle-of-nowhere address, she finds herself in a dark, cavernous old house with a mysterious old couple (the briefly seen but effective Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) who would have fit right in with the Rosemary's Baby crowd. Samantha is then left to her sitting duties, and the movie finally begins to amp up the tension with a few bump-in-the-night noises and … well, not much else, really, until the climactic scenes, which center around a lunar eclipse and a rather unconventional ritual.

To be such a long time coming, the denouement is neither original nor particularly compelling, but that's also not the point in a movie that gives you Dee Wallace (the mom in E.T.) as the landlady and a soundtrack that includes The Fixx's "One Thing Leads to Another" played on cassette through a Walkman. Satisfying as those nods to elder horror fans may be, it's equally disappointing that the movie mostly squanders the frightful opportunities of Samantha wandering tentatively around that big scary house — it's a slow burn that never reaches a boil.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Review: Surrogates (DVD)

Verdict: 2.5 out of 5

The recent box office misfire Surrogates is based on a graphic novel with a clever premise: The world's populace sits at home in virtual hibernation, connected to sensors and diodes, operating robotic representations of themselves out in the world with their minds. I like this hook because it's really not that far removed from spending a day connected to a video game controller, something millions of people do more often than not. In this world, the death of a surrogate by an accident such as getting hit by a car while crossing the street leaves the hibernating owner untouched. Want to look sexier than you really do? That's possible here, too. The conflict in Surrogates arises when a couple of surrogates are "killed," and the action results in the deaths of the owners, as well. Enter Bruce Willis and his surrogate with really bad hair to tackle the case, which involves the remorseful inventor of surrogates, a military weapon and a protagonist steadily awakening to the dulled human existence of the surrogate world. The action intensifies as Willis casts aside his surrogate and reenters the world in his own skin. Although Willis spends some scenes trying to spark a renewed real-world connection with his wife, the movie lacks a compelling emotional anchor and ends up feeling much like the surrogates look — a bit too plastic and polished with nothing genuine underneath.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

2009's top tunes, part two

My 11 most played artists in 2009, according to

1 Pet Shop Boys // Fueled by Yes, its b-sides and the Christmas EP.

2 Lady GaGa

3 Erasure // I didn't get the anniversary rerelease of The Innocents, but they made it near the top anyway.

4 Alanis Morissette // Producer Guy Sigsworth helps revitalize Morissette on Flavors of Entanglement. It's no doubt his influence that sees some of her denser rock pieces replaced by the toe-tapping likes of "Giggling Again for no Reason."

5 Madonna // She can't buy a hit these days, but "Celebration" and "Revolver" were welcome if not mind-blowing offerings.

6 Lily Allen // Allen didn't take hold the first time around, but second album It's Not Me, It's You is stuffed with the thoughtful ("The Fear") and hilarious ("F*ck You," "It's Not Fair"), all of it deadly catchy.

7 Tori Amos // My interest in some of Tori's newer material has cooled, but Abnormally Attracted to Sin, an impressively cohesive piece considering its 17-song length, provided a welcome thaw.

8 Annie // Had the really good Don't Stop appeared earlier in the year, Annie likely would have made the top three. "Hey Annie" is hypnotic, and the Berlin Breakdown Version of "Anthonio" is a fun throwback to '80s balladry.

9 La Roux // I haven't listened to the album as a whole a great deal, obsessing instead over individual tracks such as the sublime "Fascination."

10 The Bird and the Bee // Their second full-length, Ray Guns Are not Just the Future, which included a couple of previously released strong tracks amongst the new songs, failed to click with me (an ode to David Lee Roth — seriously, TBATB?), but standout songs "Love Letter from Japan" and "My Love" helped TBATB just squeeze into the top 10.

11 Michael Jackson // The list goes to 11 for the sole purpose of a nod to MJ, who fell so sharply off the radar in the late '90s and all of the 'oos that he had become out of sight, out of mind. It's sad that it took his death to get us all to rediscover the magic. The soothing "Human Nature" emerged as the song I listened to most following his death.

Friday, January 22, 2010

2009's top tunes

Courtesy of the statistics compiled by, here's a roundup of my most listened to tracks of 2009 (tried to post this New Year's Eve but had strange Blogger issues … quite a bummer when you've spent an hour formatting it all pretty):

1 Not As We and Not As We (Jack Shaft Radio Edit) – Alanis Morissette // For me, Morissette's Flavors of Entanglement is a triumphant return to form in terms of being listenable beyond a single or two, and this harrowing breakup ballad (she's talking about you, Ryan Reynolds!) is arguably the best song in her catalog. It's also one of only two songs that could improbably top PSB in one of their most fruitful years ever.

2 Paparazzi and its various remixes – Lady GaGa // It's the best of the The Fame singles in my book, although Poker Face was a real grower.

3 This Used to Be the Future – Pet Shop Boys // The Yes era brought one of the most rewarding PSB years ever, and this complex track – ridiculously tucked away on the bonus disc – is my favorite of the new songs. It's thought-provoking, delicious modern electronic music, and it boasts the vocals of the usually mute Chris Lowe, which is always a treat, and The Human League's Phil Oakey.

4 Love Etc. – Pet Shop Boys // Yes' lead single is certainly a grower, but it gradually pulls you in as all those contrasting, mesmerizing song parts, courtesy of producers Xenomania, weave a beautiful sonic tapestry.

5 Zero – Yeah Yeah Yeahs // The singer sounds a lot like Chrissie Hynde to my ears in this relentless stomper.

6 King of Rome – Pet Shop Boys // It's the slow-burn masterpiece from Yes; the "Liberation" of its era.

7 The Way It Used to Be – Pet Shop Boys

8 After the Event РPet Shop Boys // Arguably the cr̬me of the Yes b-sides.

9 Building a Wall – Pet Shop Boys

10 Vulnerable – Pet Shop Boys

11 Torch – Alanis Morissette // More perfectly crafted heartache.

12 Eh Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say) (Pet Shop Boys remix) – Lady GaGa // A masterful example of a remix breathing new life into a song by enhancing — not deconstructing — its strengths.

13 We're All Criminals Now – Pet Shop Boys

14 Legacy – Pet Shop Boys

15 More Than Words Can Say – Carol Hitchcock // A b-side to a non-hit from the somewhat obscure batch of late '80s Stock Aitken Waterman productions that hit iTunes this year, and I couldn't stop listening to it. It's the b-side to a fine tune called "Get Ready." If you've seen Hitchcock's photos — she was a personal trainer or some such — you can imagine men might be frightened when she sings, "Get ready, 'cause here I come."

16 All Over the World – Pet Shop Boys

17 The Fear – Lily Allen

18 Summerboy – Lady GaGa

19 Did You See Me Coming? – Pet Shop Boys

20 Quicksand – La Roux // Striking and irresistible, this was my introduction to the Yaz-indebted newcomer.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

More free Erik Hassle

I'm expecting Erik Hassle to be one of the big breakouts on my playlist in 2010 when his album Pieces is finally released in the US on Feb. 22. He's already buzz-worthy on my charts thanks to a free download of the AMAZING "Don't Bring Flowers" and the lovely acoustic cover of Robyn's "Be Mine" with Ellie Goulding. Now, a free download of the Prison Penguin Remix of single "Hurtful" is available free for the tweeting.

Going Ga Ga (The Fame Monster)

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5

Ga Ga struck me as little more than a passing curiosity when "Just Dance" crashed onto the radio early in 2009, setting up an incredible run that probably no one at the time would have believed was to come. Then the song perched at number one — a rare achievement for unapologetic dance music — piquing my curiosity as to whether she could parlay that success into something more. At first glance, "Poker Face" just sounded like a retread of the previous hit, and it took a while for it to win me over. I found those menacing male voices — "mwah mwah mwah mwah" — an odd reminder of the Eurodance styles of Ace of Base and Real McCoy. Around the time "Poker Face" was topping the Hot 100, Amazon was pimping the The Fame CD for five bucks, and I thought, "What the hey."

Turns out The Fame is a magnificent piece of work, bottomless with potential hits, and I enjoyed getting to know it while Ga Ga emerged as one of the more creative and engaging forces in pop in quite some time. Songs like "Paparazzi," "Summerboy" and "Poker Face" display an impressive knack for pop songcraft, and I can overlook the occasional uncanny similarity in sound (particularly on "Summerboy") to Gwen Stefani. Around the time I got the album, the stunningly good Pet Shop Boys remix of ballad "Eh Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)" appeared, and I was hooked. Another pivotal moment was the SNL appearance with its intimate piano performance that clearly demonstrated the spark and gravitas of something more than a manufactured pop star.

I think it's premature to declare Ga Ga the new Madonna, but the early appearance of a strong second album when probably a couple of more hits could have been milked from its predecessor does nothing to counter that notion. She gets bonus points, as well, for making The Fame Monster a proper album rather than making it one of those lame re-releases with a couple of calculated singles tacked on.

Lead single "Bad Romance" encapsulates everything that clicked so well for her first string of hits while setting the stage for another impressive run of singles, and it's tough to predict which those will be, given that it's all radio-ready.

Seventies-tinged balled "Speechless" would be an adventurous single choice that could bolster her credibility among those eager to dismiss her as a disposable dance pop diva. It's hard to imagine the unshakable "He ate my heart" chant of "Monster" not making it to radio, and "Dance in the Dark" is emerging as the irresistible "Paparazzi" of The Fame Monster. Word is she'll release a third album late in 2010, and I can't wait to see where her Abba-esque knack for melody and Madonna-esque knack for style and production will take this superstar in the making.