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The Official Chart for January 2017

So, maybe I’ll continue to do this regular music post thing, but once a month? And rather than struggling to find something to say about every track I hear that I like, I’ll just write about the tracks I know I’ve got something to say about, and stuff the rest on a Spotify playlist (and my tumblr; my plan is to update them both throughout the month).

The song I’ve been most excited about this past month actually came out at the end of last year, “Back to Me” by Lauren Jauregui (from Fifth Harmony) and indie-ish electronic band Marian Hill. I love songs that are built from a number of exaggeratedly discrete components, like a bunch of machines that have been left running and have fortuitously come together to produce a song.

Also from the end of last year, Elkka’s EP Her, and, especially the track “Try.” Is this evidence of a 2-step/pop revival? I hope so.

In it’s own way, I guess Wiley’s Godfather is a kind of garage revival; or, rather, it’s satisfyingly old-school grime album, with beats that are half abrasive and half ethereal (an what’s even more old-school is the guest spot from Scratchy).

People often say fiction’s all dystopias nowadays, but what about the utopian fictional universe Lee Daniels has been constructing on Fox, set in a parallel world where the future R&B of the turn of the century was still dominating the charts? In terms of the music, I think this is even more true of his new show, Star than it is of Empire. The show itself is probably not as good as Empire; it’s preposterously melodramatic (even compared to Empire), and it features the most ludicrous use of a film grain filter to signify authenticity that I have ever seen. But I guess I’m just a sucker for a conventional star-is-born narrative, because I’m enjoying the show quite a bit. Also, it has two trans characters (played by trans actors) as fairly significant members of the supporting cast, which is very good to see.

Timbaland, meanwhile, has taken his early-2000s revivalism from Empire and to Korea, and produced the most pop version of the Timbaland sound imaginable.

Kehlani’s new album SweetSexySavage is also on a late-90s/early-2000s R&B revival tip. I’m not sure if it’s the artifice of the revival or if I just have soppier tastes these days, but I’m especially loving the tracks that I suspect I would have dismissed as unnecessarily sentimental 15 years ago.

Sizzy Rocket, whose debut album I really liked last year, has teamed up with some bloke to form a grunge revival band. I guess Sizzy Rocket is in her mid-20s, so I’m not sure she was even born for grunge the first time around, and her excellent take on the style is making me feel extremely old.

Charli XCX and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu have both worked with PC Music-associated people in the past, and their collaboration under the auspices of another extremely self-conscious pop producer, Yasutaka Nakada, is a good occasion to think about what’s specific about PC Music’s version of pop irony. PC Music fans often get mad if you call the label ironic, linking you to interviews where various PC Music people insist that they really like pop music. But, aside from the fact that arguing that people aren’t ironic on the basis of them saying they aren’t ironic suggests a weak grip on the concept of irony, this misunderstands the sort of irony of which PC Music can be accused. It’s not that PC Music pretend to like pop music in order to hide the fact that they don’t like it; they pretend to not like pop in order to hide the fact that they actually do like it, or to distance themselves from it. I can understand the impulse: when I was younger and more concerned with what I took to be normative standards of taste, I would sometimes joke that I pretended I ironically liked Britney in order to hide the fact that I genuinely was a fan. The problem lies in the way that PC Music artists generally signify this distance. Take the most recent GFOTY EP, which starts with a genuinely pretty great pop-punk track, but follows it up, mostly, with half-finished or deliberately sabotaged tracks. This signification of ironic distance through an exaggerated display of incompetence, though, is easy and banal: it doesn’t reveal anything about pop music. Contrast this with Yasutaka Nakada’s method of distancing, which works much more by creating an eerieness through slight exaggerations of pop sounds (this is even more true of his work with the band Perfume than with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, who I think sometimes moves over from weirdness to self-conscious wackiness). This creates an instability which is more productively ironic, because it raises questions about how much of this weirdness is internal to pop.

Nadia Rose’s Highly Flammable suffers a little bit from the fact that “Skwod” is so good nothing can really follow it up. But the EP comes close, and close to as good as “Skwod” is very good indeed.

Courtney Marie Andews’ Honest Life begins with the hard-won hopefulness of “Rookie Dreaming” and ends with this devastating account of self-delusion, which reminds me of Rilo Kiley’s “Better Son/Daughter,” a song that fucked me up on a semi-regular basis about ten years ago.

Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau’s version of “Don’t Think Twice it’s Alright” is the jazz-bluegrass-fusion Dylan cover you’ve been waiting for.

Tayler Buono’s “Something about You” is an incredibly concentrated distillation of the very prettiest bits of tropical-house-pop.

GBM Nutron’s “Bacchanal” starts off sounding like a criticism of a woman’s outrageous behaviour, which resolves into awe and love.