Monday, December 14th, 2009

The Singles Jukebox End-of-Year Best-Off 2009: Round 1, Group 6

Manish Bhasin: At the start of the day this looked like being one of the most exciting events in The Singles Jukebox End-of-Year Best-Off 2009 so far, and we’ll be bringing you the best of the action from this sixth group stage, which saw five songs competing for just two second round places. With me as always to guide us through the action is Steve Claridge:

Now Steve, before we start, there’s been a lot of speculation as to whether or not this group was actually going to get published, and earlier today the Jukebox Commission issued a statement saying that they were “sleeping” – now, you’ve been a professional for 22 years, have you ever slept?

Steve Claridge: Oh, without question Manish, I mean, regardless of whatever level you’re playing at, you’ve got to accept that, at some point, you are going to fall asleep. I remember during my first spell with Weymouth, I fell asleep for two days, during which time I was sent out on loan to Blyth Spartans, Newport County and Crewe Alexandra, and I woke up to find that I had just scored a penalty in an FA Trophy tie against Kidderminster Harriers.

Manish Bhasin: Great. Now, let’s talk about these songs, and I suppose the only place to start is with DJ Quik & Kurupt – now, “Hey Playa! (Moroccan Blues)” – it’s quite unusual, isn’t it, to see a song title that’s got both an exclamation mark and a set of parentheses in its title, isn’t it, Steve?

Steve Claridge: Well, I’m gonna say no, Manish, and I’ll tell you why. Now, back when I was at Leicester, there was this musician called Sash!, and the fact that he was having all these hits while flagrantly having – I mean, he wasn’t even hiding it – having this exclamation mark, which, there is no doubt in my mind, was not part of his name, but he had it at the end of his name – that annoyed me, there’s something about exclamation marks that’s always annoyed me, but Pontus Kaamark, one day, he saw how annoyed I was getting, and he came over and said, “Steve, sometimes you just have to accept that change happens whether you want it to or not,” and I tell you Manish, that piece of advice has served me really well through the years, even though he then followed it up by revealing that the lads had switched my boxer shorts for a G-string.

Manish Bhasin: Quite, and Kurupt, of course, starred in the film Half Past Dead. Now let’s talk about Shystie ft. DJ Deekline and their song, “Nu Style”. Now, Steve, Shystie was born on Christmas Day 1982 – were you ever into your garage at all, Steve?

Steve Claridge: Well, no, I was always more of an old-school drum ‘n’ bass man myself, though that Sweet Female Attitude song – I’d not say no to that, certainly.

Manish Bhasin: I wonder whatever happened to Glamma Kid? Now, also in this group we’ve got The-Dream ft. Kanye West and “Walking on the Moon” – what do you make of that, Steve?

Steve Claridge: I’ll tell you what I don’t like, Manish. What I don’t like – that face, you know the one that Kanye West pulls, the sort of sneery thing –

Manish Bhasin: The-Dream’s real name is Terius Nash, of course.

Steve Claridge: Exactly, exactly, but what I mean is that you’ve had your success, you’ve had your hits, you’ve inadvertently clowned 50 Cent without really trying – you Don’t. Need. To pull that face. It really ruins it, ruins the video –

Manish Bhasin: Which is set in space – on the moon, in fact.

Steve Claridge: Exactly. You’re on the moon: that should be enough.

Manish Bhasin: Strong opinions, as always, and I don’t doubt you’ve got something to say about this next one: “Daniel” by Bat for Lashes.

Steve Claridge: Well, Manish, I mean, what more is there to say about this girl? What more is there to say? She’s got a head-dress, she enjoys the Karate Kid films, she’s in the car, then she’s not in the car, then she’s crying, or is it the make-up, difficult to tell from this angle, the fellers from the Power Rangers turn up at some point, I think – I mean, it’s very hard to tell what’s going on, but I think, on balance, yes.

Manish Bhasin: It’s a yes from Steve, and that brings us to our last song, bit of a surprise this one being here: “Lisztomania” by Phoenix. Now, Tom Ewing said they “might as well be speaking Martian”, Dave Moore said the melody felt “arbitrary”, Michaelangelo Matos found their blank affect charming but limited – what does that mean Steve, what does that mean in words?

Steve Claridge: Well, I mean, there’s two ways you can look at this, Manish. The first is “Why is this here?” The second is “Does this have a chance?” The third is “Who voted for this?” And I think, realistically, you’ve got to say that the answer to all those questions is “Maybe”.

Manish Bhasin: Thanks Steve, pleasure as always. Now, time for the action, handing you over to Hillary Brown to start us off at the beginning of what has already been an epic encounter.

Hillary Brown: This was a fairly easy group to arrange, top to bottom. “Lisztomania” is a strong enough song not to be killed by repetition, but, rather, strengthened (5 points), while “Walking on the Moon,” charming and retro as it is, isn’t quite tippy top among the singles The-Dream’s put out this year. It’s merely pretty, rather than pretty and wacked out or pretty and saturated with real-life love (3 points). Shystie, on the other hand, was guaranteed a bottom slot for running over 7 minutes and zig-zagging all over the place without any kind of unifying feel (0 points). Bat for Lashes’ contribution is arty and atmospheric but fails to take that last step into complete awesomeness (2 points), and DJ Quik & Kurupt have creativity but no real feel for melody (1 points).

STANDINGS: Phoenix 5, Dream 3, Lashes 2, Playa! 1, Shystie 0

Alfred Soto: This was a relatively easy group to rank. After initial reluctance to embrace what I thought was okay rhyming, I warmed to how inexplicable lines like “I will you give writer’s block if you abandon me” rubbed up against the interwoven samples in “Hey Playa! (Moroccan Blues)” (5 points); it evoked a friendlier “Big Pimpin’.” Since my balking at designer-leather slowcore Siouxsie Sioux wannabes like Fever Ray put me in the minority this year, there was no way I could ever warm to something as ludicrous as “Daniel,” but if Yeah Yeah Yeahs could marry gauche, grandiose, and Goth and woo me as a best man, then Bat for Lashes’ overstated synths and stacked harmonies could convince me they’d created a slower version of Sinead O’Connor’s “I Want Ur Hands on Me (speaking of early nineties referents, the violin hook or whatever is almost as insinuating as “Cuts You Up”‘s) (2 points). As for Phoenix, they’re lucky they got some dough for this piece of perky car commercial perkiness (1 point).

Alfred also gave Shystie 3 points and The-Dream 0 points.

STANDINGS: Playa! 6, Phoenix 6, Lashes 4, Shystie 3, Dream 3

John M. Cunningham: Well, one and two are a no-brainer. The sparse, chilling “Daniel” might well be my favorite single of the whole year (5 points), and “Lisztomania”, which makes up for its frustratingly narrow melodic range with sheer infectiousness and exuberance, isn’t far behind (3 points). Ranking the others is a bit more challenging, since I don’t outright dislike any of these. But let’s go with “Hey Playa!” at three (2 points), on account of its inventive sample and refreshing vintage aesthetic (I bet the 13-year-old me would’ve loved this), followed by “Walkin’ on the Moon” (1 point), which isn’t The-Dream’s strongest single from Love vs. Money (that would be “Sweat It Out”) but benefits from a brisker clip than I’m used to from him and an engaging Kanye cameo. Which leaves the playfully rambunctious but ultimately unmemorable “Nu Style” pulling up the rear (0 points).

STANDINGS: Lashes 9, Phoenix 9, Playa! 8, Dream 4, Shystie 3

Alex Ostroff: Shystie’s “Nu Style” is seven minutes of emceeing over a beat simultaneously epic and laid back – a track so impressive that it jumped to the top of the ranks before I was through my first listen (5 points). The opening drum beat and the Latin funk guitar; the string accompaniment at 1:15; the slow revving up of the burble that explodes at 1:30 into a wobbly grimey bit of hit-the-ground-running electro.The outro is damn near Balearic. Honestly, the beat is so incredible that all Shystie had to do was ride it capably without fucking up. That she turns in an impressive performance memorably taunting her detractors and bigging herself up is an added bonus. “Hey Playa!” has an equally memorable beat and commanding performances. Where “Nu Style” twists and morphs, self-consciously changing over its length, Quik & Kurupt’s Moroccan Blues throws together a bunch of totally disparate elements (R&B chorus, note-perfect 90s West Coast revivalism, Middle Eastern chanting) and somehow makes them sound of a piece. Despite this, the song feels totally effortless – a testament to the talent behind it (3 points). On the masterful Love vs Money, “Walkin’ on the Moon “felt like The-Dream at his corniest and most embarrassing, a Michael Jackson pastiche with a Kanye 4.0 guest verse. But, as it turned out, an epic concept suite didn’t have much space for dorky fun, and “Moon” is the only slice of pure joy on the album – nothing else approaches the goofiness of “Shawty is da Sh*!” (2 points). The electronic textures of “Daniel” aren’t too far afield from “Walkin’ on the Moon”, but where Terius dominates the track, taking every opportunity available to sing, holler, and exclaim random syllables, Bat For Lashes fades into the background. While “Daniel”’s an exceedingly pretty and, at times, moving track, it’s in dire need of a climax – a moment where Khan can shine through the fog and touch us, and it never happens (1 point). And as for Phoenix? Well, I enjoy them a great deal, but they’ve always made tight, spare rock songs that I like but don’t love. “Lisztomania” is a step forward, but not enough for them to pull ahead of cohorts as impressive as these (0 points).

STANDINGS: Playa! 11, Lashes 10, Phoenix 9, Shystie 8, Dream 6

Ramzy Alwakeel: Inevitable that the liszt should be led by the quiet wit and flagrant synthesisers of the wild pop opener from Phoenix’s coming-of-age third album (5 points), but the remainder of the group makes up a strong, diverse supporting cast. Best of the also-rans is “Nu Style”, a bewilderingly exhilarating seven minutes of the kind of urban new wave that New Order this decade can only dribble over (3 points), but the competition is close, with Bat for Lashes’ productive wank over “Experiment IV” by Kate Bush coming in third (2 points). The weirdly preppy “Hey Playa!” is rescued by a compulsive chorus (1 point), unlike “Walkin’ on the Moon”, which is produced in gorgeous deference to Duran Duran circa 1982, but let down by a weak melody and rubbish lyrics (0 points).

STANDINGS: Phoenix 14, Playa! 12, Lashes 12, Shystie 11, Dream 6

Lizzie Greenwood-Hughes: It’s the halfway point of the group, and we’ve had lots of you getting in touch to give us your thoughts on the action so far – lots of Shystie fans getting in touch, Alex from London says that apparently he’s going to “fold his arms” if “Nu Style” isn’t in the top two. Someone calling themselves SD from London has also been in contact, wondering why we haven’t got any Speech Debelle in this group, and Rodney from Washington also sent us a message saying simply “Phoenix? Seriously? FFS.” First Floor Staircase indeed, Rodney, but now back to the action!

Chuck Eddy: The first two singles here have at least a modicum of middle Eastern melodic motif in there somewhere (not to mention people with the letters “DJ” in their name), but Shystie and DJ Deekline’s track just feels more mysterious to me (5 points; DJ Quik & Kurupt, 3 points). Third song is lunar faux Michael Jackson botched by a typically pointless rap guest spot (The-Dream, 2 points); fourth is a cute Kate Bush rip (Bat for Lashes, 1 point); fifth is a snooze, perhaps with “interesting parts” but don’t ask me where anymore (Phoenix, 0 points).

STANDINGS: Shystie 16, Playa! 15, Phoenix 14, Lashes 13, Dream 8

Talia Kraines: I’m massively bored of everyone going on about Bat For Lashes being wonderful, so it’s with some regret that I put her at the top of this list (5 points). I think I was just unlucky in getting a list with four other songs I hadn’t heard before. Shystie has attitude and a banging chorus (3 points). The Dream always manages to create something interesting sounding (2 points). I just didn’t get DJ Quik & Kurupt (1 point), but at least it had something more than Phoenix, who seem to be releasing rehashes of their music from 2000 (0 points).

STANDINGS: Shystie 19, Lashes 18, Playa! 16, Phoenix 14, Dream 10

Keane Tzong: I really like that Phoenix album, OK (5 points)? So the race is for second here, and these are all [7]+ songs, I think. The-Dream takes second (3 points), mostly because I love the video, which out-feys the track itself (0:35 in the video alone). “Walking on the Moon” is pretty good even without visual aids — the Kanye verse is good, and it’s both sweet and incredibly campy. The video for Bat for Lashes’ “Daniel”, viewed as a refresher immediately after “Walking on the Moon”, just proves Natasha Khan / Bat for Lashes can’t vamp half as hard as The-Dream does (2 points). She tries, and “Daniel” is great, but Bat for Lashes’s synthpop is effortful and heavy-handed where The-Dream’s is casual, tossed-off. Both are skillfully done, but there’s a certain ease to The-Dream that puts him ahead. Almost all of the enjoyability of “Hey Playa” could be preserved if you just left the chorus (which, fair play, is immense) on repeat; the rest is no doubt carefully and lovingly arranged to be messy and massive, but I can’t make heads or tails of it, so all I hear is the messiness (1 point). As for Shystie- mostly, I feel as though I’m missing something here. She seems oddly humorless to me, her delivery more sour than sassy. That might even be fine, but she ends up at odds with the instrumental, whose kitchen-sink appropriation of a lot of disparate elements is clever and sly in the ways she is not (0 points).

STANDINGS: Lashes 20, Shystie 19, Phoenix 19, Playa! 17, Dream 13

Erika Villani: Music that reminds me of middle school wins every time, and “Hey Playa!” sounds like sitting on the the third step of the bleachers at a seventh grade dance, watching the colored spotlights flash across the gym and listening to rap songs I had never heard but everyone else seemed to know the words to, the beats bouncing off the concrete walls and coming back vaguely metallic, and when I bit my lip I tasted the awful unflavored lip gloss I had put on last-minute because Clueless was on TV while I was getting ready and I thought maybe I should try looking a little more like Alicia Silverstone. (I believed, with the self-loathing faith only a thirteen-year-old can posses, that a short, fat, unpopular brunette could be a tall, thin, desired blonde if she just tried hard enough.) So there’s one (5 points). A few years after that dance, I spent an entire winter lying across my bed and listening worshipfully to Stevie Nicks’ The Wild Heart, and it seems that album snuck off to birth and then abandon “Daniel” when I wasn’t looking. So there’s two (3 points). And the rest sound unquestionably like the present — “Nu Style” is something I would enjoy at a party but not remember to look up when I got home (2 points), “Lisztomania” is something Kirsten Dunst would flail her limbs to in a Sofia Coppola film (1 point), and “Walkin’ on the Moon” is one of those songs I would hear on KIIS-FM and think, “God, this is the fucking longest song ever,” because it sounds exactly like eight songs that came before it (0 points) — so there’s three, four, and five.

STANDINGS: Lashes 23, Playa! 22, Shystie 21, Phoenix 20, Dream 13

Three points separate our top four, with one ballot left to be cast. The-Dream is stuffed, but any of the top four can go through.

A first or second place for Bat for Lashes puts her through. If she places third and DJ Quik and Kurupt place first, fourth or fifth, or The-Dream is one of the songs ahead of her, she goes through. She can also go through from third place if DJ Quik & Kurupt finish second, so long as Shystie doesn’t come first; to qualify from fourth place, she would need Shystie to finish no higher than third, and Phoenix to finish no higher than second. From last, she needs Dream to win, with Shystie finishing fourth. In a tie-break, Phoenix are the only ones she would beat.

First or second for Quik & Kurupt sees them through. A third place finish puts them through if they’re ahead of Bat for Lashes; fourth spot could see them through if Phoenix don’t get first and they’re ahead of Bat for Lashes; last spot only gets them through if Shystie comes fourth and Phoenix come third.

Shystie would qualify by coming first. Qualifying with a second place finish would need Bat for Lashes and Quik & Kurupt to do no better than fourth, with Phoenix coming third. A third place would need Phoenix to do no better than second, and a combination of Quik & Kurupt and Bat for Lashes in the bottom two slots.

Phoenix really, really need to win and for everything else to go their way. Frankly, the maths is completely fucking lost on us by this point.

And so the stone of responsibility is passed to…

Chris Boeckmann: Sometimes when I listen to “Daniel,” I think, “Man, this is an insanely great instrumental, why didn’t she write a better vocal?” And then other times, I think, “Man, this is such a sad, powerful, understated vocal, why did she let it drown it in this nostalgic atmosphere?” So it’s sort of like noodles and Hershey’s syrup (0 points). “Walking On the Moon” is hands down the worst track on my favorite album of the year. It’s still a fun, solid song, but it’s not very exciting or adventurous. I feel no need to champion it (1 point). I really, really like “Nu Style.” The beat is frenetic and buzzy but also very controlled. Vocal is very good, very confident. But (2 points) it’s not as special as the Quik and Kurupt song, which is a massive, hooky, stomping single that I’ll continue to jam for many years (3 points). “Lisztomania” is more than special. It’s magic. A glorious, next-level pop song. So far, each listen has brought uncontrollable joy. I can’t praise it enough (5 points). From the mess to the masses!


1. DJ Quik & Kurupt, “Hey Playa!” – 25 points
2. Phoenix, “Lisztomania” – 25 points
A higher regular season score puts DJ Quik & Kurupt in first place
3. Shystie ft. DJ Deekline, “Nu Style” – 23 points
4. Bat for Lashes, “Daniel” – 23 points
A higher regular season score puts Shystie in third place
5. The-Dream ft. Kanye West, “Walking on the Moon” – 14 points

Fuuuuuck. Phoenix scramble into the second round with a single of theirs that we didn’t even like that much, while “1901” is on the plane back home. Poor Shystie probably won’t take any comfort from knowing that, even if Chris had put her second and “Hey Playa!” third, she’d have gone out due to scoring lower than them during the season. And as for Bat for Lashes… noodles, girl. Noodles. The-Dream, it is not much of a spoiler to say, has still got a few bullets in the gun as far as this tournament’s concerned, but you’ll have to wait and see what they are…

20 Responses to “The Singles Jukebox End-of-Year Best-Off 2009: Round 1, Group 6”

  1. Weird convergence in that Erika and I both mentioned our 13-year-old selves in relation to the DJ Quik and Kurupt track!

  2. I would like to emphasize my extreme fondness for “Walking on the Moon”, or, more specifically, its video, which stars what I can only assume is Tyler Perry masquerading as The-Dream.

  3. OK, I’m officially recalibrating my opinion of Phoenix from “inoffensive, inconsequential background noises” to THE ENEMY WHO MUST BE KILLED WITH KNIVES.

    God I love “Hey Playa!” so much though. Love Erika’s blurb for it.

    DJ Quik & Kurupt > Shystie > The-Dream >>>>>>> Bat For Lashes > Phoenix.


  5. Chris nails perfectly my issues with Daniel. I unabashedly love its two component parts, but somehow they don’t add up to the whole that I’d want them to. Noodles and Hershey’s syrup, indeed. (Though I’ve never heard that metaphor before).

  6. Phoenix, Dream, Shystie, Quik & Kurupt>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Bat for Lashes


  8. Rodney from Washington also sent us a message saying simply “Phoenix? Seriously? FFS.”

    Que? I wasn’t aware I harbored any strong feelings against them. They’re too boring to hate.

    “Walkin’ on the Moon”, which is produced in gorgeous deference to Duran Duran circa 1982, but let down by a weak melody

    The little mini-bridge before Kanye’s verse is probably my favorite little bit of melody this year.

    Would have rated Q&K > Dream > Shystie > Phoenix > BfL.

    The last three are pretty arbitrary, though. I overrated Shystie during regular jukebox. I haven’t needed to revisit it all. I will send Chris another OTM re: “Daniel.”

  9. “Daniel” is amazing. I weep, not so much for the result, but for my own impotence in the matter – wish I’d had this round rather than #5.

  10. As long as you’d still push “Hey Playa!” through.

  11. I don’t like “Hey Playa” that much (esp not compared to other tracks off the album), but I’d have put it second. Also it’s a travesty that rubbish boring “Lisztomania” gets through and “1901” doesn’t. I have no idea how one band can have two singles in a row that rub me in two completely different ways, but there you go.

  12. I’ve said this a million times before but Shystie would have easily won if she’d bothered to release/leak the 4 minute edit (which I cannot find on mp3 ANYWHERE) instead of the 7 minute version (though I know some of you like that one better). ARGH :'(

  13. Hillary Brown is very right indeed. iTunes says I’ve played Liztomania 71 times and it is still getting better and better. And I’ve tired of 1901 after about 30 listens. There’s not a song out there that wants to face Liztomania in the round of 16.

  14. Second group in a row where I like them in the same order as Lex. This makes the second place a real disappointment.

  15. shystie wuz robbed

  16. also kat, I’ve got a 4 minute mix of shystie on mp3. get in touch

  17. “Lisztomania” > “1901” (but only slightly). I don’t know, the two I would have ranked highest got through this round, so I can’t be too upset about it.

  18. Omg thanks dude! Firstname dot Lastname at gmail dot com?

  19. Love the BBC Football League write-up!

  20. They’re both really good! It’s just that you get to hear “1901” more because of the car commercial…