30-Day Song Challenge: Day 1, Your Favorite Song

My friend and fellow musician and philosophy blogger Leigh Johnson has done the 30-Day Song Challenge every year since 2011, and this year she’s invited others to join her. Because this would be a group thing, and it would be fun and interesting to compare daily picks, I thought I’d join in.

Just to clarify: I’m writing this from the perspective of my personal taste, not my academic expertise or study.

As someone who studies pop music as an academic discipline, I thought it would be interesting, and maybe valuable (?) for my readers to know a bit about my personal taste in music–the music I listen to for fun, not for academic study. Sometimes there’s an overlap, but, more often, there’s not. Maybe some subsequent year I’ll do the Challenge from my academic voice, not my personal voice.

Now that that’s out of the way: Day 1’s topic is, uh, like, the hardest question ever: Your Favorite Song.

This is impossible to answer: I like a lot of songs for a lot of different reasons. So, I’ll try to narrow it down as much as I can, into one old song and one new release. I’ll also list honorable mentions/other favorites.

Favorite Old Song: Nitzer Ebb, Murderous (Phil Kieran Remix)

So, when people ask, “What kind of music do you like?” I usually answer something like: “industrial techno” or “techno-influenced EBM” or “muscular techno” (which is pretty much my own term). Think PercTrax, Wax Trax!, Nitzer Ebb’s “Body Rework” album, Silent Servant, Fixmer/McCarthy, that stuff.

This song is on the “Body Rework” album. “Murderous” is on the iconic “That Total Age,” and is itself a fantastic song. But the Phil Kieran remix is just…mwah.  I am a sucker for rhythmic complexity and a good climax, and this song has both. The build from about 3:50 to 4:16, and then the plateau after that? YES. Just, YES. THAT’s exactly the musical pleasure I want from a song. Also, the way Kieran isolates the groove in the original mix, foregrounds it even more, and layers it with the stuttered vocals? Also fantastic. (Also, honestly, the Derrick May remix of “Shame” on “Body Rework”? That’s also fantastic. May isolates NE’s already solid groove and makes it both colder and funkier.)


Favorite Current Release: Giorgio Moroder feat. Sia, Deja Vu

So the other answer I give to “What kind of music do you listen to?” is: dumb pop, especially EDM. I’ve fallen head over heels for this song. Calling it a GREAT pop song seems like underwhelming praise. It’s a GREAT pop song. The composition and performance from both Moroder and Sia are just…beyond virtuosic. They’re so so subtle, but extremely powerful. Sia’s vocals are extremely musical–she’s subtly manipulating, for example, her emphasis and accents, to achieve a lot, musically, with a little, vocally (think about just how subtle Sia’s melismatic ornaments are, or how much Moroder accomplishes with four handclaps and tom hits at the climax). Another thing I love about this song is how it is clearly and solidly a collaboration between two people with distinct styles: it’s both totally Moroder (e.g., the ABBA-esque disco groove) and totally Sia (e.g., the mushmouthiness, the vocals in the chorus that have the feeling of being suspended in air (1:13, for example)) at the same time. My favorite moment is the climax from the end of the bridge to the final chorus (3:33ish), where Moroder subtly uses a few handclaps and tom hits to tumble us into the downbeat. Just, vapid, meaningless pop perfection.

Runners-Up for Old Song: Janet Jackson, “Rhythm Nation,” L.A. Style, “James Brown Is Dead