This week, quirky covers, funky remixes, shadow puppets, and hyperactive remixers, plus if M.I.A. can't be in the Top Ten without a Riff revolt, I'll find someone who sounds like her, dammit!
10. Japancakes - "Only Shallow" (from Loveless on Darla)
(mp3 at Pitchfork)
It's an eyebrow-raising gimmick: record all of My Bloody Valentine's classic album in a countrified style. It turns out this Athens, Georgia combo have found a hidden link between country and shoegaze, with the pedal steel guitar a perfect instrument to capture the warping harmonies of the original. Actually, I just love pedal steel guitar. Plus the use of the piano to take on the ambient interlude is inspired.
9. Various Artists - Partyshank Mixtape (grab an mp3 at Kidz by Colette)
You get the idea from their publicity photo: Partyshank are a couple of London kids in bright sweatshirts playing with kooky plastic toys, and this hyperactive mix, full of goofball references and sped-up effects, is cartoonish in the best sense. The duo plunders soul, 80s and rave music; anything, really, just as long as it keeps the energy up.
8. Athlete - "In Between 2 States" (from Beyond the Neighborhood, out 9/25 on EMI)
(mp3 at DriveByMedia)
The London combo had been lumped into the Coldplay-wannabe crowd since their 2006 hit single, "Wires;" who knew they could give Boards of Canada a run for their money. This short but sweet sample from their new album features a distorted drum machine and airy electric piano chords, but when the guitars come in, the track achieves an epic scope.
7. Santogold - "Creator"
(mp3 at Nialler9)
Okay, she's a buddy of M.I.A., she kind of looks like M.I.A., and this was produced by M.I.A.'s producer Switch. Well, so what; even if this sounded just like M.I.A., the world could use more M.I.A.'s. But, this Brooklyn-based singer is a little more intense and definitely more American, although the backing track sounds like grime from outer space.
6. Les Savy Fav - "What Wolves Would Do" (from Let's Stay Friends on Frenchkiss)
(listen to the whole album at their Virb page)
This New York band hasn't released a new album in 6 years, and while they've always been in the dictionary under "angular," this track softens the new wave-y guitar with soft harmonies, kind of like Bloc Party after they did a little more living and maybe hung out with TV on the Radio for a while. Worth it if only for the "ahoooooo" howls in the chorus.
5. Spank Rock & Benny Blanco - "Loose" (from Bangers & Cash on Downtown)
(listen at The Fader)
Now here's what I'm talking about, with this whole "offensive lyrics in hip-hop" thing. On its face, this is an obscenity-filled, dirty, trashy song, accompanied by a photo of the guys posing under two pairs of oiled-up ladies' legs. But considering they're doing a kind of piss-take on 2 Live Crew, how does that change the interpretation? Is it still offensive if it's a commentary on offensiveness? Do we ban both?
4. Vieux Farka Touré - "Ana (Goonda Tribal Dub)" (from UFOs Over Bamako on Modiba)
(listen at his MySpace)
The Riff has already covered this excellent remix album from Bamako's most famous son, and for good reason: it's a project that could have easily gone so wrong (imagine a Malian "Stars on 45"!) but turned out so right. Like all good remixes, this dub mix of "Ana" elucidates something essential about the original: a hypnotic, minor-chord intensity present in so much great African pop.
3. Kanye West - "The Good Life" (from Graduation on Island/Def Jam)
I know I've already posted this video, but I have to be honest in this Top Ten, and all week this song has been stuck in my head, making me happier than I have any right to be. Slow enough to almost be a ballad, this standout track from the excellent Graduation is saved from "slow jam"-dom by the quirky Michael Jackson sample ("P.Y.T."), chirping along in the background; but like a good slow jam, you can't help but smile and sing along in the chorus: "Now throw your hands up to the sky."
2. Jose Gonzalez - "Teardrop" (from In Our Nature, out 9/25 on Mute)
(mp3 from The Bathysphere)
"Teardrop" was never one of my favorite Massive Attack songs. I always felt like they went kind of downhill after Blue Lines, and this song, with its pretty Liz Fraser vocals, just seemed too treacly. Leave it to Jose Gonzalez to find the track's melancholy heart, bringing out the strangely Eastern melodies I never noticed before.
1. Little Dragon - "Twice" (from Little Dragon on Peacefrog)
(grab an mp3 at 2manyscenes, video below)
This Swedish band sometimes gets a little noodly on their debut album, venturing into a kind of acid jazz territory; but this simple piece is enhanced just slightly by electronic washes. Yukimi Nagano's soulful vocals ring out over the haunting, repetitive piano melody: "Tell me what led you on, I'd love to know/Was it the blue night gone fragile?" The video, an entrancing piece of shadow theater, imagines a plot without being overly literal, and the ingenious, handmade effects enhance the track's sense of utter heartbreak.