It recently occurred to me that I really dig three commercial dance tracks from the last year or so. What’s the common denominator? All are sung by relevant, siren-voiced chanteuses, produced by DJ’s, and all have streamlined pulsating waves of EDM joy into pop gitch glory.
In the past, finding this type of song would have required some measure of effort on the part of the listener, as the tunes would’ve resided somewhere on the periphery of mainstream accessibility. Nowadays, dance music, in all its forms and machinations, is so ubiquitous that tracks like these are played regularly on all types of radio formats and can be found drawing hits on all manner of music blogs.
Where the DJ + Siren style of song used to be a strictly remix-style venture, now, they’re flat out collabo’s (Jermaine Dupri just got a 75 cent royalty from me because I used the word collabo [another 75 cents] and he’s happy as a pig in dirt he’ll be able to eat dinner tonight). Ahh ha. Ahhhhh Ha!
Here are the three DJ + Siren songs from the past year that I so dig:
1) Florence Welch & Calvin Harris – Sweet Nothing
The chorus of “Sweet Nothing” is elite. When I first heard Florence Welch’s voice on “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)”, I knew she’d be capable of lifting a dance track high up into the heavens. She’s accomplished that feat with aplomb here.
2) Ellie Goulding & Calvin Harris – I Need Your Love
It’s the verses that really get me on “I Need Your Love”, particularly the second one. This is a smash through and through.
3) Sia & David Guetta – She Wolf
Sia’s vocal absolutely dominates this track. The melody she creates with her voice is astounding. “She Wolf” is infinitely better than “Titanium”, and this, for me, is Guetta’s best track (possibly his only other good one) since “Love Don’t Let Me Go”.
The three tunes listed above are my current favourites, but by no means are Harris, Guetta, or the Sirens the progenitors of the style. When I look back at what’s been released over the past several years, another three tracks come to mind that helped build the Siren/DJ bridge into the Danyan-Kunshan style behemoth it is today.
1) Tiesto f. Tegan & Sara – Feel It In My Bones
Technically they’re two sirens, but they’re unfathomably harmonious, and twin sisters to boot, so I’m gonna let the backbone slide on this one. This track cannot get stale.
2) Royksopp f. Karin Dreijer Andersson – What Else Is There?
It may be a tad self-serving to describe Royksopp as DJ’s in the traditional sense, but I feel like they’re close enough, and I there’s no way in Hades I could fail to mention this absolute banger.
3) Gabriel and Dresden f. Molly Bancroft – Tracking Treasure Down
Quite possibly my favourite track from my favourite DJ’s.
Looking back even further, more branches of the DJ + Siren Family Tree become apparent as they woosh in the megawatt-speaker propelled wind. It’s interesting how the release of this type of track has developed. In the late 90’s, I started noticing that the M.O. of the style often saw a DJ, typically an up-and-comer, remixing a track from a well-established, mainstream star.
I know there are tracks that go back even further than the three I’ve listed below (the early 90’s Eurodance movement comes to mind, and of course, like all others, that scene has its own distinct lineage), but the following triumvirate had such a profound effect on me at the time of their release that I have to cite them as indomitable influencers. These songs still sound fantastic (over a decade later), and from a pop-cultural perspective, they clearly aroused a sensation in music fans/producers that has developed into a throbbing, unstoppable scene today. Here they are:
1) Madonna – What It Feels Like For A Girl (Above and Beyond 12″ Club Mix)
My god does this still sound absolutely brilliant 12 years later.
2) Whitney Houston – My Love Is Your Love (Jonathan Peters remix)
Whitney’s voice sounds impeccable on this massive dancefloor anthem.
3) Sarah McLahlan & Delerium – Silence (Tiesto’s In Search of Sunrise Remix)
Delerium and Sarah McLachlan are probably still buttering their bread because of this gargantuan hit.
50. a) Perfume Genius – Awol Marine/17/Normal Song
I am drawn to Mike Hadreas. His music is a subdued, sad, lovelorn fragrance. His singing/music is grace inherent. His stage presence is utterly magnetic — you just can’t take your eyes away from him. A unique star.
50. b) Miguel – Use Me
Miguel’s vocal bleeds passion. The music bleeds sex. The hooks never end. What a great song.
49. Maximo Park – When I Was Wild/Reluctant Love/Banlieue/This Is What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted/Unfamiliar Places/Hips and Lips/The National Health
So yeah, I’ve listed a millions songs of theirs here. Not my fault. They continue to be viciously, criminally underrated. Everything they touch is gold. One of the most consistent bands of the last ten years. It’s clear they take their craft extremely seriously, yet still, there is a vulnerability, a workmanlike sensibility that’s always present, and it gives the melodies and lyrics that much more heft. Outstanding yet again.
48. a) M.I.A. – Bad Girls
The older, wiser, sexier cousin of “Paper Planes”. Super catchy. Super badass. M.I.A. has never had more swagger than in the video for “Bad Girls”.
48. b) The Helio Sequence – December/Downward Spiral/One More Time/Hall of Mirrors
Brilliant. All of it. The Helio Sequence are an unparalleled treasure.
47. Wintersleep – Nothing Is Anything (Without You)/In Came The Flood/Zones
Brilliant. All of it. Wintersleep are an unparalleled treasure. They, like The Helio Sequence, are quarks, pieces of energy, here, there, everywhere.
46. The Weeknd – Wicked Games
What a statement by the Weeknd. “Wicked Games” is desperate, angry, pleading. Most of all though, the song is about Abel Tesfaye’s voice — he might have the best voice in contemporary music — and he uses it here to devastating effect.
45. Hot Chip – Motion Sickness
My favourite song on the London lads’ latest LP In Our Heads. “Motion Sickness”, the album opener, spins on heads and loops on threads, the result being a basket of warm-buttered bread. I love the witty wordplay, Alexis Taylor’s vocal, and that super-fun dance-pop beat. Another highlight in a career that’s increasingly chock-full of them.
44. The Temper Trap – This Isn’t Happiness/The Sea Is Calling
“The Sea Is Calling” caught me right away. It’s a brilliant tune that flows in waves of serenity and melody. “This Isn’t Happiness” took a while longer to catch me. Now — I’m hooked. The lyrical sentiment is poignant, and all components of the music work wonderfully together. And again, Dougy Mandagi is fantastic on vocals. A rising power of a band. The live version of “This Isn’t Happiness” featured below is jaw-droppingly good.
43. a) Big Boi f. ASAP Rocky and Phantogram – Lines
What a beat. Big Boi brings the bacon back home yet again.
43. b) Crystal Castles – Affection
My favourite song on III, probably the best and most accessible one on the record too. Replete with soft vocals, driving, massive synths, and beat to bet your bottom dollar on.
42. Alt-j – Taro/Matilda/Fitzpleasure/Tessellate
From a startlingly good debut album, these four tracks represent a band mixing several disparate styles into a pot-luck that’s unabashedly fresh, unique, and delicious. Alt-j (government name) can go soft or hard, with electronics or old-school guitar driven riffs. A singular talent has burst onto the music scene, demanding attention. They’ve sure as heck got mine.
41. Metric – Youth Without Youth/Speed The Collapse/Nothing But Time
Not much more to say than they do it every single time. They’ve never released an average song or album, let alone a bad one. I adore the way they construct their particular brand of pop-alt; it’s always unique, always comfortably Metric. “Youth Without Youth” is an awesome lead single, with a drum beat to crack skulls and conquer huns.
40. Silversun Pickups – Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)
Neck of The Woods is a detour of a record for The Pickups, an experiment if you will in moody, frazzled, horror alt-rock. Clean and direct hooks take a back seat to the mood — except on “Bloody Mary”, a song that bridges their new sound with older (and awesome) Silversun offerings.
39. Stars – Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It
Might be the best song they’ve ever done. Short form title = Hooks Galore.
38. Father John Misty – Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
A pounding, melodic statement from ex-Fleet Foxes member Joshua Tillman.
37. a) Japandroids – The House That Heaven Built
The alt-rock anthem of the year? Yeah, probably.
b) One Republic – Feel Again
I kept hearing this song and eventually realized the hook is really hard to shake. Ryan Tedder is master at crafting catchy, contemporary pop.
36. a) Trust – Bulbform/Shoom
Toronto’s foremost rapscallions of 2012. I don’t want to parse “Shoom” and “Bulbform” too closely. They’re both dark, brooding, mysterious, otherworldly, and catchy as catnip to cats. I really dig the video for “Bulbform”, featured below.
36. b) The Raveonettes – Into The Night/Young and Cold/The Enemy
The Raveonettes have been consistently releasing quality records for a long time now. They have a completely unique style and their MO is always engaging; their 50’s/60’s style melodies/lyrics/structure, wrapped ever so tightly in ethereal reverb and distortion, is always compelling. The Raveonettes are a wondrous gem.
It was only a matter of time before Florence had a massive dancefloor smash; her biggest strength is that her dynamic voice is malleable with any type of sound, and propulsive synthy dance music happened to be an area she’d hitherto left unexplored. Calvin Harris is extremely lucky he got to her first.
34. a) Polica – Lay Your Cards Out
Sexy. Patient. Cunning. The bass and drums conspire to make this a truly special tune.
34. b) Bastille – Bad Blood
The chorus clasps like a car crash to a caboodle.
33. Skrillex – Summit/Bangarang
For as much of a backlash as the Skrillman has seemed to garner over the last little while, he’s actually incredibly adept at making pop songs. “Bangarang” wears its influences on its sleeves, and is great because of it. I bet Skrillex had an awesome time making that tune; fun is its DNA. “Summit” is another pop smash, chopping and screwing Ellie Goulding’s vocals over a six-minute synth serenade.
32. Stepdad – Must Land Running/My Leather, My Fur, My Nails
I’m so glad I found Stepdad. They make me feel good. “Must Land Running” is the more straightforward of the two; blessed with shimmering production and a monster truck of a chorus. In the Sombrero galaxy, “My Leather, My Fur, My Nails” is the inter-planetary #1, and has been for 50 years.
31. Taylor Swift – Begin Again/All Too Well
From an album rife with pop behemoths, “Begin Again” and “All Too Well” stand out above the rest. She will not make a better album than this, and her forays into different sub-genres of pop will not ever go as smoothly as they do here.
30. a) Michel Telo – Ai Se Eu Te Pego
How do you say fun in Portuguese? Oh right, Ai Se Eu Te Pego. A deserved world-wide smash; pop music doesn’t get more joyous than this.
30. b) Mumford and Sons – Below My Feet
My favourite song on Babel. Simply, a classic Mumford and Sons song, a connecting, heart-wrenching, fist-pumping anthem.
29. City and Colour – The Grand Optimist
Wow. By miles and days and eons or any other measure, the best song on Little Hell. Mr. Green has always seemed to have a knack for releasing personal, poignant stuff, but “The Grand Optimist” is a different beast altogether. It’s a soul-rattler. The dynamic shifts in the song are beyond striking, and the lyric is haunting.
28. The Tragically Hip – Man Machine Poem/Now For Plan A
After 30+ years, they’re still going so, so strong. It’s unfathomable really. But then again, we are talking about Canada’s best band ever. I’d say the band has had a renaissance of sorts over the last two albums, We Are The Same, and Now For Plan A, but that would imply that they were at one point average, a patent falsehood if there ever was one. “Man Machine Poem” is beguiling, with hooks at every bloody turn, buoyed by Gord Downie’s incredible, gale-force-power vocals. “Now For Plan A” is pure, serene, lovable, reflective — beautiful. The harmonies and call and response exchanges with the female vocalist are downright magical.
One of the best party songs of the year. A perfect summer song. Sweden strikes again.
27. b) Gossip – Move In The Right Direction/I Won’t Play
Beth Ditto is a one of a kind voice and presence. She and her bandmates have built a really solid catalogue of songs, culminating in the extremely accessible A Joyful Noise. “Move In The Right Direction” and “I Won’t Play” are fantastic pop-alt tunes.
26. Scissor Sisters – Let’s Have a Kiki/Somewhere
Question: What’s the music video of the year? Answer: the one for “Let’s Have a Kiki” (featured below). I’m saddened to say “Kiki” didn’t link with me initially. It took me a while to feel its hooks in my bones. Once I did, I locked the door (tight) and had the biggest Kiki one could ever imagine. There was diving, turning, working all over the damned place — and I couldn’t have been happier. “Somewhere” is the ace-in-the-hole, the dance-pop smash of the album.