Friday, December 18th, 2009

The Singles Jukebox End-of-Year Best-Off 2009: Round 1, Group 7

John Madden Football ’92: Good evening sports fans, I’m popular American sports commentator JOHN MADDEN FOOTBALL ’92! IT’S IN THE GAME! I’m here to redress the balance of framing in this tournament away from those pansy-assed Euro-donkey commentators that THE GREAT FANS OF THIS The Singles Jukebox End-of-Year Best-Off 2009 have been forced to endure during this GREAT tournament! PHIL LIGGETT – GET OFF YOUR BICYCLE AND FIGHT LIKE A MAN! GRRRRG! I’ve heard a lot of speculation that OUR GREAT COMMISSION has never in actual fact heard me commentate on any form of sporting endeavour, and has never even PLAYED MY GOD-DAMN GAME ON THE SEGA MEGA SYSTEM 32, but for those people, I will only say this – I’LL SEE YOU AT WRESTLEMANIA XV! GRRRRRG!

But now let’s look at the contenders in THIS, the seventh group stage of our first round. FIVE songs go in, but only TWO will progress to the second-round stage, and without question the headline event of this event is that the group contains not ONE, but TWO songs by hit-making R&B sensation THE-DREAM!

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

John Madden Football ’92: You bet your ass it is! Today, we’ll be seeing his solo single “Rockin’ That Shit” go heads-down face-up against “My Love”, his collaboration with titanium-platinum-alloy All-American diva Mariah Carey. Paging David and Goliath – GET YOUR ASSES BACK TO THE K-MART, BECAUSE THIS “CLASH OF THE TITANS” THING JUST GOT REAL! And THEN we have our SECOND appearance in this tournament by DJ QUIK & KURUPT, who bring the double-up full-on all-in-your-grill DRUM WARFARE of “9xs Outta 10” to the table – AND YOU’D BETTER BELIEVE THEY’RE GONNA EAT WITH THEIR FINGERS!!!

AND THERE IS MORE! Six WHOLE feet more – VV Brown brings the ONLY UK top 40 hit in this group to the big dance, as “Shark in the Water” gets ready to BITE A CHUNK OUT OF POP MUSIC’S ASS!!! Oh, and there’s also Joy Orbison’s “Hyph Mngo”, but that’s just noise, it’s not really music, is it? Do you remember Helen Shapiro?

Cecily Nowell-Smith: Like many other people, I’ve spent a lot of time this year (and even some money) on records The-Dream’s been involved in – his own Love vs Money, the Electrik Red album, a slew of other tracks written and/or produced by our friend Terius, with or without Tricky Stewart. Spending that sort of time on one producer’s output, you can’t ignore the idées fixes that crop up. I don’t even mean the repeating themes in the lyrics, statements of sexual politics that one can react to with vague horror or quote-machine glee. What I’m thinking of are repeating snatches of tune, similar lyrical phrasing, a certain plush synth noise, little elements of craft that occur and reoccur in so many of the songs he’s had a hand in. Okay, every producer has certain things they do well, and certain things they do often, but it feels particularly pronounced with this one. The funny thing is that I really don’t mind it – when a line’s rhythm falls suspiciously familiar, it feels… comfortable. I like the way he phrases a tune too well to mind if he uses it again and again, or if another singer just copies the way he sang it on the demo tape. That said, I wish he’d made a more unexpected use of Mariah’s voice in “My Love”, which is good but it’s not.., I’m not sure what it’s not. One thing it’s not (1 points) is the absurd lush grandeur of “Rockin’ That Shit” (5 points): a song about desire rewarded that sounds so hugely sad I can’t quite deal with it. So “9xs Outta 10” is good for its shakiness and surety (3 points), like the shuddering of the ground under the crash of great elephant feet; “Hyph Mngo” has faded a little into amiable background music for me, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t once a viciously exciting noise (2 point); “Shark In The Water”, poor thing, is the VV Brown song I’ve liked the best but in this group it just feels so lightweight, so sixties-via-the-nineties, that I can’t take it seriously (0 points).

STANDINGS: Shit 5, IX/X 3, Mngo 2, Love 1, Shark 0

Dan MacRae: “Who’s willing to go half on the baby?” indeed (“My Love”, 5 points). The-Dream certainly seems to know his way around luxurious hooks and minimalist keyboard lures. It’s almost as though he does this sort of thing for a living. Sidenote: I can’t be the only one grossed out whenever shit (3 points) is used as a positive noun. It’s slang for poo, for goodness sakes. Once the thirty-six minutes of place-setting or whatever pass, “Hyph Mngo” makes for quite the jittery treat (2 points). Elsewhere in the bracket, the angry hopscotch flow of “9x’s Outta 10” is too brittle for me to actively endorse (1 point). Each year, crateloads of rappers employ this sparse beat/swift jab system with sharper results and bars that merit residence in the memory banks. I’m no Sue Thomas F.B.Eye, but I can’t figure out the raves on this one (/puts poncho on for inevitable shitstorm). “Shark In The Water” is sort of troubling because it seems like a tune I could eventually come around on. Right now, it’s a gargle of misplaced ideas barfed out into one big bad idea (0 points). But in the future, I can envision myself on the bus having an epiphany of “Hatchie Matchie! This is amazing! What a fool I was for concluding it was a casserole of reheated faux-soul dogshit. (Sob) And now I’ve missed my stop. Gah!” This will be an Astro-bus seeing as it’s in the future, but you can imagine my concern.

STANDINGS: Shit 8, Love 6, IX/X 4, Mngo 4, Shark 0

Talia Kraines: The Dream ft Mariah sounds like “We Belong Together”’s sparser sister (3 points) but him solo is a really disappointing slow jam (0 points) that just sounds like R Kelly. I love the sample in DJ Quik (1 point), Joy Orbison is a surprise slow burner (5 points), VV Brown I’m put off more by her persona than the song but I think it was massively overlooked by pop fans. It just sounds like faux Xenomania (2 points).

STANDINGS: Love 9, Mngo 9, Shit 8, IX/X 5, Shark 2

Edward Okulicz: To be completely fair, “Shark” (5 points), “9xs” (3 points) and “My Love” (2 points) are almost impossible to split; they each do completely different things and are suited to different moods. “Shark In The Water” strolls and sashays amiably, “9xs out of 10” thrills and puzzles alternately, and “My Love” soaks the listener with its glossy, warm opulence. If I had to pick the world I wanted to be taken into, I’d take the breakfast-in-bed with honey of “My Love”, if one were to rate on objective technicality, the cut-up samples of DJ Quik & Kurupt might edge it, but “Shark In The Water” gets my top vote because it’s not quite sure what it wants to be – mellow summer jam in the verses, big big quirky pop number in the choruses, Lou Reed plagiarism case in the middle eight, and I love all these bits unreservedly. Whatever mood I happen to be in, whether I want to feel loose, tight or silly, VV Brown is just a better fit for me as a pop fan. DJ Quik & Kurupt come in second by accounts of their song (and album!) frequently sounding like absolutely nothing I’ve ever heard before – it scratches an itch I didn’t even know I had! The remaining two songs are strong too, but “Rockin’ That Shit” (0 points) sounds like a dry-run for “My Love” – beat not too different but a bit wonkier, the rush of backing vox under the chorus definitely a close cousin of “My Love”‘s outro but, well, not that it matters, but it doesn’t rock even slightly. Still good! “Hyph Mngo” is disorientingly trippy but listening to it in the preposterous heat of where I am at the moment makes it seem like a blissful window into an air conditioned club somewhere in my wildest imagination (1 point).

STANDINGS: Love 11, Mngo 10, IX/X 8, Shit 8, Shark 7

John M. Cunningham: Compared with Group 6, this is a pretty weak batch of songs. Not only do we have an inferior DJ Quik and Kurupt track (2 points) (“9xs Outta 10” has some welcome bite but feels awfully monochromatic), but two subpar The-Dream tracks (the simplistic “My Love,” featuring a weary-sounding Mariah (3 points) and the routine, colorless “Rockin’ That Shit” (0 points)). So I’m going to surprise myself and put in the top slot a song I’d never heard before this week: VV Brown’s sunny, Natasha Bedingfield-ish (I swear I came up with that before reading our original review)”Shark in the Water” (5 points). After that, I’ll go with the admittedly contagious “My Love,” followed by “9xs Outta 10,” “Hyph Mngo” (a gleaming club track that nevertheless feels bereft of ideas (1 point)), and “Rockin’ That Shit.”

STANDINGS: Love 14, IX/X 10, Shark 12, Mngo 11, Shit 8

Anthony Miccio: Yeah, it’s just a Clipse homage (or might as well just be), but that beat deserves mixtape immortality (DJ Quik & Kurupt, 5 points). And it’s better than The-Dream spinning his wheels (“Rockin’ That Shit”, 3 points) (which is better when Mariah doesn’t crowd in with her own wheel-spinning) (2 points). But at least he has a distinct identity (Mariah too). Can’t say that about most of the retro British songstresses we’ve suffered this year (VV Brown, 1 point). Still, I’d rather hear a lightweight’s songs than have some beatfreak spinning his wheels with an homage to anonymous ’90s techno (Joy Orbison, 0 points).

STANDINGS: Love 16, IX/X 15, Shark 13, Shit 11, Mngo 11

Pete Baran: “Hyph Mngo” is one of my songs of the year, mixing Aphex Twin atmospherics with something genuinely spooky and eventually relentlessly banging (5 points). In comparison, none of the rest really innovate. VV would convince more if she could prove anyone would buy this stuff. It was a great summer song, though, if a bit UK formulaic — and where else is the shark gonna be (3 points)? Quik & Kurupt play a straight, hard bat with the rap and it’s very pleasurable to hear such a good flow over such a choppy backing, though it is probably a bit too clever for its own good (2 points). And that leaves the two Dream tracks. The-Dream ft. Mariah only really comes alive when Mariah is on it, and even then it’s zombified half-life, soft but no-one’s A-game (0 points). As for “Rockin’ That Thing”, it’s super smooth, but super annoying (1 point).

STANDINGS: IX/X 17, Love 16, Shark 16, Mngo 16, Shit 12

David Moore: One of these Dream songs seems indelibly linked the album (“Rockin’ That Shit” (3 points) sounds great as an abstracted echo of the best hook in “Shawty Is the Shit,” that simple do-re-mi-fa ooh-ing, but feels insubstantial as a single), the other (“My Love”, 2 points) I could probably do without altogether. So that makes VV the winner by default here (5 points), even though there are about five songs on her album I like more, including the one where she jacks the Royal Teens/Nair jingle. DJ Quik/Kurupt never clicked, so while I appreciate where everyone is coming from, I just can’t care about these guys (1 point). What starts as a stoopid stomp anthem gets a little too big for its britches, the stuttered vocal sample distracts from the rap and the occasional shit’s-gonna-blow special effects feel superfluous, seems like it’s trying to hard to be so silly. Joy Orbison will only bring out my total inability to write about dance music — makes me want to say things like “minimal,” I guess, but more to the point if I want to listen to little disembodied snatches of melody from aspiring divas rhythmically Cuisinarted over something I can almost dance to, there’s about six hours of UK funky house in my iTunes to choose from before I listened to this one again (0 points). Definitely underrated that deadmau5 song, though, it’s an [8] for sure, so who knows.

STANDINGS: Shark 21, IX/X 18, Love 18, Mngo 16, Shit 15

Michaelangelo Matos: I presume “9x’s Outta 10” will best “Hyph Mngo” in the final tally—it did in regular season play—but having given them both 10s, a decision I’ve only gotten happier with over time, it’s a toss-up for me, and I’ll root for either (Joy Orbison 5 points, DJ Quik & Kurupt 3 points). The-Dream’s Mariah duet (2 points) is an easy sell over “Rockin’” (1 point) —I’ve never found the word “shit” even remotely sexy, and even on the radio (killa) edit it keeps popping into my head, maybe because it’s so obviously been overdubbed. “Shark” is catchy enough for me to recall without any trouble, but it’s got the sincere blandness that sinks so much U.K. R&B (0 points).

STANDINGS: IX/X 21, Shark 21, Mngo 21, Love 20, Shit 16

Frank Kogan: Quik’s beat and Kurupt’s voice stick out their respective feet to trip each other up, and then it’s a constant somersault, not one that *I* can pull myself out of, or want to (5 points). Then, just as I’m settling in my bath for a nice “Hyph Mngo” wash, Joy Orbison takes a cue from Quik and works a sudden stutter-step into the ship’s motor, and there I am, water splashing while my core gets jarred (3 points). I’ve heard it’s therapeutic. VV Brown’s got one of those generically quirky voices that have been going horribly retro on us for the last half-decade, like the office manager getting “giddy” at the Xmas party, mixing drinks and metaphors with equal abandon. Entertains me fine, this time, despite my basic reserve (2 points). The-Dream made the album of my year, but my least favorite tracks were chosen as singles, just as if his genre were country not r&b. Not bad for least favorite, actually, Mariah singing “My Love”‘s sex-mush riff with soft, beautiful insistence (1 point). On “Rockin’ That Shit” Terius Nash continues with the spare lushness that only he can manage — did it superbly on “Fancy,” is kinda boring here (0 points).

STANDINGS: IX/X 26, Mngo 24, Shark 23, Love 21, Shit 16

Renato Pagnani: “9xs Outta 10” is the easy winner of this group for me (5 points), and a contender for Best Rap Song Of 2009 (I dare you to name me five better rap songs from this year, excluding others off of BlaQKout). I’m a bigger Ryan Leslie fan than I am of The-Dream, which probably speaks to my tastes as a listener, but there’s no denying the infectious anticipation of fornication and genuine sense of infatuation the dude brings to “Rockin’ That Shit” (3 points), and I can’t be mad at that. On another day the Joy Orbison track (2 points) might actually take second spot over The-Dream, and even “My Love” makes me warm up to Mariah, a type of singer I’ve never been fond of (1 point). The VV Brown song, however, is so toothless it wouldn’t leave marks if it was the size of a whale (0 points).


1) DJ Quik & Kurupt, “9xs Outta 10” – 31 points
2) Joy Orbison, “Hyph Mngo” – 26 points
3) VV Brown, “Shark in the Water” – 23 points
4) The-Dream ft. Mariah Carey, “My Love” – 22 points
5) The-Dream, “Rockin’ That Shit” – 19 points

And so VV Brown enters her fifteenth month of not being able to catch a god-damn break, getting pipped at the post by the fair town of Croydon’s sole remaining representative in the competition. Quik & Kurupt eased through, and you’d reckon they’ll give anyone a game in the next round; as for poor old Terius… well, take a wee glance at the sidebar and you’ll notice that the story of his tournament just might not be over yet. Keep your eyes peeled for it later today…

24 Responses to “The Singles Jukebox End-of-Year Best-Off 2009: Round 1, Group 7”

  1. Fuck you and your genius sequencing for getting my hopes up about VV, Will.

  2. Poor VV Brown.

    I say that a lot lately.

  3. trying to imagine john madden knowing helen shapiro

  4. “He Knows How To Love Me” isn’t about John Madden???

  5. Now this is a group of death…even the song I don’t really care about, VV Brown, is still more than OK.

    Would’ve probably voted DJ Quik & Kurupt > Joy Orbison > The-Dream & Mariah > The-Dream > VV Brown. On any given day, either Dream single is on a part with “Hyph Mngo”, which I love but don’t rate as highly as others in its field this year from Guido, Ikonika and Joker; but neither Dream single is a particular highlight of its parent album for me.

  6. “Why, this is a bag of shit!”

    “But it’s really good shit, Mrs. Presky.”

  7. I think I’d have voted in basically the same order as the final tally, except with “Rockin’ That Shit” over “My Love.” It is a pretty closely packed group, though.

  8. FWIW I was way too harsh on DJ Quik here, which has grown on me since being forced to review it. Think “Hey Playa” is better though (and anyway my score’s a moot point).

  9. I’ve never found the word “shit” even remotely sexy

    Me either. I actually would’ve gone Quik > VV > Hyphy Mango > Shit > Mariahdream here, I think. Only really care about the first song. And even “9 x Out Of 10” hits me as somehow cold and clinical, to be honest; probably that’s part of the attaction (like in industrial music or whatever), but it still leaves me craving a warmth that isn’t there. Relistened a couple times this week to see if it might be worth the #10 single spot on my Pazz & Jop list, and it doesn’t come close. Still like it a lot, though.

  10. How can all of you be ignoring the awesomeness of “My Love”? That’s easily the best track in this lot.

  11. a…slow jam (0 points) that just sounds like R Kelly

    You say that as if it’s a bad thing! (And actually, it’s the Mariah duet that directly references R., to say nothing of his song “Kelly’s 12 Play,” which is about having sex to R. Kelly’s album 12 Play.

    Very good group, except for VV, who does nothing for me. I gave “Rockin’ That Shit” a [6] and “My Love” an [8] originally, but would now give them respective scores of [8] and [7].

    9x > Mngo > Shit > Love > VV

  12. gonna agree with Rodney on that “better than” list.

  13. When “Hyph Mngo” was dropped at Wifey last night, the place went mental. Amazing dancefloor tune – I love that it takes you higher and lower at the same time.

    Guido ft. Aarya – Beautiful Complication

    ^^If you love “Hyph Mngo” you will love that. If you don’t get “Hyph Mngo” you might like that better – it has more of a proper song/vocal.

  14. Also, people more into this year’s quirky Popjustice-style pop, any ideas on why VV Brown flopped as hard as she did? Because while it’s not really my thing enough for me to love her music, it’s goddamn catchy at its best (this, “Crying Blood”). I don’t buy that her personality was the reason because, you know, La Roux’s endless cuntiness didn’t seem to put people off this year.

  15. Hazarding a guess that it’s because she was HONESTLY weirder than most? La Roux was all tinny 80s production with decent pop melodies but a DESPERATE need for some fucking low end. Florence was the poppier version of Bat for Lashes – Kate Bush doom’n’gloom, etc. Little Boots was straight up electropop.

    It’s catchy, but it doesn’t really slot into a definable niche of the moment. Even compared to the 60s and girl group revivalism of last year/year before (Duffy, Adele, etc.) they played it straight in a way that Brown doesn’t, really? It’s this weird mix of pop and doo-wop and Bo Diddley and HORNS and…I dunno. It grew on me and there are a bunch of tracks I love on the album, but it doesn’t really slot in with au courant stuff in 2009 pop.

  16. I’m still curious if MPHO’s album is getting a release. It leaked, we all have it, etc. and there were some decent moments in there – she just released a single with Wale (!?!?!) but the campaign seems to have stalled.

  17. Yeah, agree with Alex on VV here — her weirdness is closer to someone like Janelle Monae (about as self-consciously put-on, but that can be OK) than any of the 60s (or 80s?) revivalists, and the album reminded me more of Solange for some reason — not in how it sounded, but in the sense of getting away with the retro fetishism without making me wanting to vomit.

  18. I dunno about VV, but I felt like Solange was able to pull that off because she selectively copped her retro moves, mixing it up with modern elements the whole time, instead of trying to pass herself as something from 196x/197x.

  19. I think the MPHO album has been given a new release date in February. Not sure the prospects are any more promising than last time though.


  21. MPHO has been dropped, I believe, so snap up the “Pop Art” promos while you can.

    As for VV, I would still guess that factors outside of the music itself contributed to her lack of success more than anything else (though maybe the inability to exactly pigeonhole her musical style led to radio refusing to playlist her, I know she blames that a lot). I suspect that her PR campaign was aggressive enough that people know the name and associate it with a certain desperate try-hardness above all else. Then again, I’ve seen intense hatred of her on some of the forums that cover roughly the same genres of music as Popjustice does, so maybe we’re all wrong and people just really hate who she is as a person.

    (Travelling like the Light is one of my favorite albums of the year, for what it’s worth, and I think she’s charming. But I am usually in the minority when it comes to things like this.)

  22. I should probably listen to Mpho’s album sometime. Didn’t mind “Box N Locks”, way preferred the Crazy Cousinz and Ill Blu remixes of it, but she was great live and her version of “Running Up That Hill” is incredible.

  23. I thought “Box N Locks” was crap, and your debut single is not the right time to put out a song bemoaning people pigeon-holing you. Er, they’re not, they’ve never heard of you, get off the stage.

    “Travelling Like The Light” is not a bad album but there are a few dodgy things on it (too many songs where the lyrics don’t go beyond crazy or love or whatnot) but the singles are all good, “Bottles” is a wonder and the closing song is insubstantial but quite charming. It’s hard not to blame its failure on airplay because on sheer hookiness alone “Crying Blood” has that combinatin of annoying + catchy that usually is a perfect predictor of success.

  24. Oh and this is a GREAT group of songs, I like my least favourite song in the group well enough, and more than all but one of the songs in group 5 – and even then not by much.