The Singles Jukebox End-of-Year Best-Off 2009, Round 2: “House of Flying Daggers” vs. “The Girl and the Robot”
Andrew Casillas: Royksopp and Robyn have a robot, but Raekwon has daggers. Nay, FLYING daggers. In a house no less. Victor!
Tal Rosenberg: Kung fu-practicing thug comedians vs. girls and robots. It’s a tough call, until one realizes that Ghostface is on the side of the kung fu-practicing thug comedians.
Cecily Nowell-Smith: I’ve said this in the comments box already, but every time someone says something positive about the Raekwon track I seem to hate it more. So, whatever, the Royksopp song’s okay, I guess, it’s about my least favourite thing Robyn’s done recently and of all the popular people-as-robots-as-people narratives this is one of my least favourite. But at least it doesn’t have any bloody kung-fu film samples in it.
Al Shipley: Wu Tang is for the children, I don’t know who that boring plastic dance song is for.
Briony Edwards: This one was the toughest pairing by far. Raekwon & Co just pips it because it’s that slight bit more darkly epic-sounding, and because of my established love for GZA.
Martin Skidmore: I hate voting against the Robyn, but the Raekwon represents a return to mid-season form for the Wu, my favourite hip hop act ever.
Renato Pagnani: Aging gracefully in rap can happen.
Mallory O\’Donnell: This was the toughest choice–the Raekwon is a classic-leaning Wu collaboration, too much piled on top of excess, exploding in all directions with energy. The Royksopp, however, gets the nod because it also recalls their classic material, but does so with a sense of humor.
Matt Cibula: This has nothing to do with hating dance/electro music, or robot sex, or twee-osity, or anything like that. Just a concession to ‘roided-up rap rampage. Don’t hate me.
Rodney J. Greene: While I generally root for all of these folks, no one is in top form here with the possible exception of Inspectah Deck. There’s a reason Deck always goes first, but it’s kind of moot at this point. Historically, his attention-getting openings would be followed by a barrage of brilliancies from all comers. Now, though, none of his fellow swordsmen can come as sharp and instead of the desired effect of setting a bar to leap over, that bar merely gets tripped upon. It’s embarrassing that their collective force peaks so early and peters out so quickly. Still, their Nordic competition fail to provide even one moment as thrilling as the “mobster boss”/”lobster sauce” couplet.
Jonathan Bradley: 1990s Wu-retread still sounds fresher than robot love song. Shocking, I know.
Ian Mathers: Don’t get me wrong, I love the Wu-Tang Clan, but for whatever reason I’ve always found “House of Flying Daggers” easier to admire than love. I can’t seem to inhabit or share its triumphalism, despite having no problem doing so with other Wu-Tang (or Raekwon, or Ghostface, or GZA, etc etc) songs. “The Girl and the Robot,” on the other hand, is a song I find immediately emotionally arresting. Most of that’s down to Robyn; Röyksopp are… competent as always, but with pretty much any other vocalist this would be a silly, well-produced trifle instead of a song I actually care about.
Anthony Easton: Neither of them is new, but at least Robyn is working thru a metaphor that has a little life left in it.
Alex Macpherson: Maybe the Wu’s Eastern mysticism is as over-worn as Röyksopp’s tedious robots-in-love fetish, but it’s not as twee, and they at least manage to make it come alive for the duration of the song.
Anthony Miccio: I guess RZA rehash is fresher than Moroder rehash, or at least this one is.
Martin Kavka: Nothing has managed to assuage my feeling assaulted by the beat of “House Of Flying Daggers.” I would feel just as assaulted by the beat of “The Girl And The Robot” if it weren’t in a contest with Robyn’s pleading for warmth.
Alex Ostroff: The menacing, marching beat forces Raekwon, Inspectah Deck and Meth to push themselves harder than they have in recent memory.
Chuck Eddy: If the Raekwon song was “Heat Rocks,” it’d win easy. As is, I don’t have a particularly strong opinion one way or another about either of these. But the Royksopp one has provided me several quality moments this year of not-forwarding-the-mix-CD-that-Frank-put-it-on-last-April-to-the-next-song, so there you go.
Frank Kogan: Clan tie themselves to a dramatic, static beat, the men called Method and Ghostface being the ones to run an interesting slalom around it, but this drama pales in comparison to that of Robyn as a desperate homemaker resorting to MTV at nights while bf or hubby stays away at work and nightmare sound engulfs her.
David Moore: Raekwon wins this by default — though I like Frank Kogan’s description of “Girl and the Robot” as spewing forth, presumably in some unholy overblown CGI fashion, from a Moroder Mordor (missed yr wordplay chance there, Frank), I can’t get past Robyn’s dumb-ass vocals on it, and it feels like a waste of a loop. Wu going through the motions well trumps.
Edward Okulicz: The “robot” lyrical trope is tired and the video is awful, but the spooky backing vocals and Robyn’s poise make this a lopsided win for the Norwegian wallpaper-makers.
Erika Villani: Robyn might want to work on infusing her vocals with at least a hint of longing and/or humanity before she accuses anyone else of being a robot.
Iain Mew: I almost gave the Röyksopp one an  at the time but was having too much trouble articulating what I liked about it to submit anything in the end. After that its appeal quickly seemed to slip away to the point where I felt no need to listen to it. A bit too by-the-numbers, perhaps. So a vote for the song which is still holding up as exciting.
Pete Baran: I like the shambles of Wu Tangness from Raekwon loads, but even if the R&R track feels a little second hand by now, it has still revisited my listening much more than nearly anything this year.
Michaelangelo Matos: “Daggers” has grown on me since I 5’ed it way back when but I still prefer the forcefulness of Robyn’s vocal.
Jessica Popper: It’s always great to have something new from Robyn, even if I’d prefer a proper new album, but this was a wonderful treat to keep us going until then.
Tom Ewing: Very tough this – everyone sounds well fiery on “House” but it doesn’t grip me like my very favourite Wu cuts: telling that my favourite part of it – the hook – is 15 years old, however battle-hardened the repurposing sounds. On the other hand even a well-used Robyn is still a bit annoying: I like this record but just not quite enough.
John Seroff: I’m kinda surprised at myself which side of the line I’m toeing here: “House of Flying Daggers” is virtually 36th-Chamber-outtake-level Wu; the Rae album has been taking me back to 1994 for months. Then there’s “The Girl and The Robot”, a garlic-soaked disco romp that sets my 2009 earbones all a-frenzy. Maybe the past decade plugged into an iPod has twisted my priorities around, but I gotta go with the glistening over the grimy and give R&R the nod.
John M. Cunningham: I admire the sense of hard-fought urgency in both of these tracks, but the breathless, expansive “The Girl and the Robot,” which puts Robyn’s tough vulnerability to good use, is the one that tugs at me (the swelling strings in the coda are just icing on the cake).
“House of Flying Daggers” – 16 (Martin Skidmore, Iain Mew, Alex Macpherson, Andrew Casillas, Al Shipley, Tom Ewing, David Moore, Anthony Miccio, Renato Pagnani, Alex Ostroff, Erika Villani, Jonathan Bradley, Rodney J Greene, Briony Edwards, Matt Cibula, Tal Rosenberg)
“The Girl and the Robot” – 13 (Chuck Eddy, Michaelangelo Matos, Ian Mathers, Frank Kogan, Martin Kavka, Cecily Nowell-Smith, Mallory O’Donnell, Anthony Easton, Jessica Popper, Pete Baran, Edward Okulicz, John Seroff, John M Cunningham)
Royksopp may have out-scored Taylor Swift in their group, but come the one-on-one stage Raekwon’s team was just that bit too big to overcome, and it’s the Wu old boys network that goes through to face Quik & Kurupt’s camel army in the quarters.
Next up – the glamour tie of the second round draw, as ”Zero” — our third-highest scorer this season – takes on ”Fifteen” — our fourth-highest scorer. We’d pretend Richard Keys was introducing it if we could remember anything about Richard Keys aside from his massively hairy hands. Stay tuned for the clash of the titans…