Love and Hate, What a Beautiful Combination

Erasure “Pop!” up over at 100 Albums, and we learn what they have in common with ABBA (and, to a lesser extent, the Pet Shop Boys).

Best Albums of 2014: # 20, 19, 18

jenny lewis

20. Jenny Lewis – THE VOYAGER

In a year where Christine McVie rejoined Fleetwood Mac and last year’s debut album from Haim remained a constant presence on my MP3 player, Lewis picked the perfect moment to return. Her first record since 2008 is her most concise and well-crafted, with an emphasis on the latter—her voice was arguably made for this most unapologetically glossy, sunshiny California pop. With plenty of astute character sketches (“Late Bloomer”) and refreshingly candid self-critiques (“She’s Not Me”), she avoids the shallow end of the pool and surfaces a veteran with much to say.

Favorite tracks: “Head Underwater”, “She’s Not Me”, “Late Bloomer”


19. Erasure – THE VIOLET FLAME

With EDM now becoming the validated genre ‘90s “electronica” never was, this venerable duo’s ’80s synth-pop doesn’t seem as dated as it did ten or twenty years ago. In other words, with their massive influence finally, openly acknowledged, they’re in an ideal place to take a victory lap, and they’ve done just that on their 16th album: their most consistent since NIGHTBIRD, boasting at least a couple of melodies strong enough to stand tall with their greatest hits. As an added bonus, Andy Bell’s voice continues to deepen exquisitely with age.

Favorite tracks: “Reason”, “Be The One”, “Paradise”


18. Owen Pallett – IN CONFLICT

Although not the first to juxtapose alternately pastoral and rambunctious string sections against electronic laptop soundscapes (Bjork did it 17 years ago), the synthesis Pallett achieves from delicately smashing them together has little precedent. Sounding like Andrew Bird by way of The Hidden Cameras’ Joel Gibb, Pallett’s ambitious, stretching-the-definition-of-pop songs are pleasant little puzzles that take a few spins to sink in. Standout “The Riverbed” packs a wallop I wish the rest of the album had, but I’m intrigued enough to give it all ample time and attention.

Favorite tracks: “On A Path”, “The Passions”, “The Riverbed”

Top 50 Tracks of the 1980s: # 10-6

10. XTC, “Towers of London”
XTC might have been as big as The Police if Andy Partridge had wanted to be Sting. Of course, they were great because Partridge had no interest in being anyone but himself. Although not as well-known as “Dear God” or “Senses Working Overtime”, this single contains All Good Things About XTC: a proto-Britpop hook, a heavy (but not derivative) 1960s flavor, a heart-stopping, key-changing bridge and Partridge’s love-it-or-hate-it wail (I love it).

9. Kate Bush, “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)”
Her only hit in the US–it reached # 30 and even now it’s astonishing it went that far. I don’t think I could capably describe this song to someone who hasn’t heard it, because it doesn’t sound like much else. Individual elements, such as that wonky, three-note synth riff or the understated, almost martial beat don’t seem like they’d ever go together in theory, so call Bush an alchemist and marvel that she created something this blindingly original (and so much more) before she turned 30.

8. Cristina, “Is That All There Is?”
Some days I believe this is the best cover version of all time. I mean, Peggy Lee’s original was warped to begin in, but this twisted new wave chanteuse (on the same record label as #18!) deliberately turns it into bratty high camp, rewriting the lyrics to say stuff like “he beat me black and blue AND I LOVED IT” in a voice dripping with sarcasm and spite. It’s a hoot worthy of The B-52’s if they were fronted by a punk Norma Desmond.

7. Talking Heads, “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)”
One day I’ll post a list of favorite album openers and this one from Remain In Light will be near the top. David Byrne’s abrupt “HAH!” kicks off nearly six minutes of a relentless groove that doesn’t build but arrives fully formed. What’s on top that groove, however, appears piece by piece (think of the band’s gradual entrance in the concert film Stop Making Sense a few years later) until you get a hypnotic, symphonic whole you wish would extend as far as a Fela Kuti number.

6. Erasure, “A Little Respect”
Speaking of great album openers… while “Chains of Love” was technically the bigger hit, this duo’s other best-known song (the first track on The Innocents) has permeated the culture more extensively (even driving the narrative of a Scrubs episode!) and why not: it transcends gimmickry, genre and era with that delicate but disarming melody and Andy Bell’s elastic, yearning, heartfelt vocal.