Saturday, February 1, 2014

Year Of Transcendence - Music Of 2013

For music lovers, the year of 2013 will be remembered for years to come, with great fondness. It was the year of tributes, throwbacks and most of all, transcendence. It was the year where music found its soul and groove back.

And it's all thanks to music producers and artistes bold enough to take the good of the past, to innovate the sounds of the future. Musicians who truly loved music in all its spectral splendours, and wanted to share the music that they love with the world. Musicians who didn't give a shit whether the masses would appreciate their music.

Testing, Turbulent, Twerky Times 

Music today hasn't been inspiring and memorable. Simple four-chord melodies, shallow lyrics. Rock has been dormant, if not dead, for more than a decade. Hip-hop is on the decline, swallowed by the wave of electronic rave. Pop has lost its innocence - 'selfie' may be Oxford's 'Word of the Year' for 2013, but 'twerk' came close to winning it.

People have short attention spans. They listen music more to pass time, as a distraction, a sideshow - whether while driving or commuting to work, or working out in the gym or jogging in the park. They are content with music drumming into their ears, and music videos tantalising their eyes. Seldom do people lay back on the couch in the darkness and let the music take hold of their minds and imagination, anymore.

Throwback and Tributes 

So how does one revitalise the sordid stagnancy in music? Simple - by evoking the tunes and emotions of the past, where music truly got us singing and dancing from head to toe.

And that's what a few musicians - notably Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams and Avicii - did in 2013. Daft Punk straddled into the territory of 70s disco and jazz, whilst Avicii courted even more controversy by dabbling with folk and country. Initial reception and review were mixed. Both Daft Punk and Avicii were accused of 'jumping the shark' from their EDM roots. Pharrell the singer was just as busy as Pharrell the producer - lending his voice to a few Daft Punk songs, pimping with Robin Thicke in the summer hit 'Blurred Lines' and working with legendary film music composer Hans Zimmer on the soundtrack for 'Despicable Me 2' (where he sprung out the infectious song 'Happy').

Despite such bewildering mix of styles, their musical experiments eventually captured the hearts of critics and mainstream audience alike. Daft Punk were big winners in the recent Grammys - 'Get Lucky' won the Best Record of The Year, and 'Random Access Memories' won Album Of The Year. Severe criticism for his country-infused set at the 2013 Ultra music festival has not dislodged Avicii's position as the World No. 3 Top DJ (rated by DJ Mag), nor prevented singles from his latest album 'True' from topping charts worldwide. Pharrell won Best Producer at the Grammys.

How did this new wave of innovation happened?

Daft Punk rockin' with Stevie Wonder at the Grammys.

Please Don't Stop The Music, Mister DJ

Electronic dance music (EDM) is arguably synonymous with many not-so-flattering words - club, rave, alcohol, drugs. To a large extent, the criticism is justified. Tunes from DJ powerhouses like Armin van Bueren and Skrillex are at best catchy and addictive, but hardly multi-dimensional.

Yet, we have to thank EDM for dragging us out of a decade of decadence dominated by hip-hop, rap and R&B. It started with David Guetta producing radio-friendly hits with established artistes such as Black Eyed Peas and Flo Rida. Post-2010, the fortunes of both genres have switched. Before, DJs were credited as featured artistes. Now, the new generation of DJs are selling songs in their own names.

Today, EDM remains alive and strong. Its sustainability is due to its flexibility. DJs make music by arranging sounds. Sound - that's the most basic unit in music one can get to. They are not constrained to genres and instruments. They can do hip-pop and R&B (Calvin Harris has collaborated with Rihanna, Afrojack has collaborated with Ne-Yo), and they can do rock (Avicii's 'Wake Me Up' was co-written with Incubus guitarist Mike Einzinger). 

Recently, Daft Punk and Avicii have publicly lamented that EDM had become stale, hence wanting their latest works to shake the scene up. They didn't just shake the EDM scene, though. They shook the music world by storm.

Honourable Mentions (Top 10-6 Songs of 2013)

The past year has not been solely dominated by creative music producers. There are some worthy stand-out performances - not exactly ground-breaking, yet heart-stirring enough to make me spam the repeat button.

10. Ariana Grande (feat. Mac Miller) - The Way
Her first ever single, before she's even 20, and she's already compared to the great Mariah Carrey. And why not? This girl's got the voice and energy. Move along, Miley and Britney. The talent is strong with this one. 

9. Girls' Generation - I Got A Boy
Suffering from Gangnam Style hangover, 2013 has not been a good year for K-Pop. But whilst YG's Bigbang and 2NE1 has faltered from their high perch, SM's Girls' Generation has risen to steal their thunder. Known more fondly for their saccharine-sweet cutie-pie tunes, 'I Got A Boy' proves that these 9 beauties have got what it takes to get down and gritty, YG ghetto style. Oh, and it won Best Video for Youtube's inaugural award show, beating the likes of Miley Cyrus, Lady GaGa, and Justin Bieber. K-Pop Fighting!

8. Justin Timberlake - Mirrors
His first single 'Suit And Tie' attempts to recreate the funky, suave vibes of his previous 'FutureSex/LoveSounds' album, but it is his second single 'Mirrors' where he shines brightest in 2013. A clean and simple pop ballad reminiscent of his 90s 'N Sync days, 'Mirrors' is one of the more enduring love songs ("It's like you're my mirror, my mirror staring back at me") in these testing, turbulent, twerky times. 

7. Avicii - You Make Me
The music video still bugs me, till today. It depicts a vengeful, emo Chinese dude losing in a straight-up fight to a swaggerish, cheery Hispanic dude. Otherwise, its 'Scott Pilgrim vs. The World' style theme is a joy to watch. On its own, the music's a joy to listen, too. If this doesn't get your feet all itchy and hopping into your dancing shoes or roller skates, nothing will.

6. Zedd (feat. Foxes) - Clarity
Atmospheric. Euphoric. The most played song on my playlist for 2013. Unlike your typical EDM, this one's got some decent vocals and lyrics. Its piano acoustic version is moving, too - albeit with a sad, tragic feel. When I'm in dire need of inspiration, this is a song I'll turn to. When life feels like a tragedy, it's my remedy. When I'm gripped with insanity, it gives me clarity.

Chinky Chonky 0 Latino Heat 1

Transcendence Into Perfection (Top 5-1 Songs of 2013)

Good songs sound good. Great songs sound good, and tell a good story. And to tell a good story, a song has to transcend beyond the sense of sound, and traverse into the realm of imagination.

5. The Killers - Shot At The Night
A throwback to the 80s era of synthpop and electro-rock. Although it won't sweep you off your feet the first time round, it's the kind of song that slowly seeps into your soul. The music video - starring rising movie stars Max Minghella ('The Internship') and Bella Heathcote ('Dark Shadows') - tells of a sweet, serendipitous love story in Las Vegas. No matter how dreary the day is, we're urged to always give a shot at the night, at love, and at life.

4. Avicii - Wake Me Up
This song doesn't just make you tap your feet - it makes you want to jump up on a table, one hand on a hip, the other hand waving an imaginary cowboy hat. Perfect song to kick-start the morning, and also to party from dusk till dawn. American folk and European house make an unlikely union, but somehow Avicii makes it work. Perhaps he's implicitly telling us that if music from different cultural roots can fuse into something beautiful, why not love?

3. Daft Punk (feat. Pharrell Williams) - Get Lucky
The helmeted, faceless French duo - arguably the Godfathers of EDM - gave us hits like 'One More Time' and 'Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger'. More than a decade later, such hits are still regularly played in clubs. Now that EDM is entrenched in the mainstream, they have taken it to the next level. 'Get Lucky' is all snazzy jazzy, the 'phunk' in Daft Punk, the side of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo that the world has never seen. Combined with Pharrell's sultry voice and Nile Rodgers' silky guitaring, the song may feel old, but will never get old.

2. Robin Thicke (feat. Pharrell Williams and T.I.) - Blurred Lines
Date rape? Chill out, ladies. Does The Eagles' 'Hotel California' have satanic undertones? Does Nirvana's 'Pennyroyal Tea' promote drugs and abortion? Maybe, maybe not - who gives a shit, really? The lyrics in 'Blurred Lines' suit the feel of the song - playful and provocative. It subtly suggest that girls like to get lucky, too. And what's so wrong with that? Young or old, male or female, we all like to feel young, wild and free, every once in a while. And the song makes us feel that way.

1. Daft Punk (feat. Julian Casablancas) - Instant Crush
Nightfall. A tiny, darkened rock bar tucked away in the heart of Shinjuku, Tokyo. Ushered inside by a Canadian dude, a fellow solo-traveller I had met at a sushi bar earlier during dinner. The Japanese bartender was friendly enough to turn on 'Get Lucky' upon my request. After the song finished, the tall, slim Japanese lady seated on the bar-stool beside me requested this tragic track. We started talking about music, enthusing our love for Nirvana. I never saw the four of them again after that night, including the lady. Every time I turned on this song ("A little time with you is all that I get, that's all we need because it's all we can take"), I will always remember that fateful night at a tiny, darkened rock bar tucked away in the heart of Shinjuku, Tokyo...

O how tragic, tis' instant crush in transient... T_T

Music of 2013, Never Forget

Thank you, music of 2013. Thank you for the sounds and lyrics, and for the stories and memories.

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