Hello, welcome to the Digbox. This is a [potential] blog(!) series where a person throws down a few epic jams and talks about them a little bit, or a lot. List is digs, and all that. The only rules I’m gonna set for it are 1) no more than nine songs, to keep this succinct for the readergang, 2) this is primarily about songs, not albums or other things(?), and 3) at least most of the songs have to be really, really good for reasons that aren’t ironic. Cool: Digbox: begin:
[Digbox – colourised 2021]
Spangle Call Lilli Line – “Mio”
This song is mid-key the catalyst that got me writing this to begin with. Its name is *deep breath* “Mio” (phew) and it’s one of the best and most sophisticated dream pop songs I’ve heard in a long time. I’m obsessed enough not to want to write on it any further. Ugh. Let’s start on the surface: this ultra-clean style of production is something I usually associate with overbaked bilge, but Spangle Call Lilli Line’s veteran songwriting chops, flair for killer melodies, and sensitivity to balancing sparseness and intricacy in a complex arrangement give them the footing to knock this one out of the damn ballpark. Take that, shoddy indie-lounge!
“Mio” is teeming with great melodies and instrumental nuances, but there’s never too much going on at any one time; it has the hooks to be a pop song, but the band’s chord choices are richer and less predictable than your standard shimmer-shimmer. Take out a few spoonfuls of sugar, throw in some nasal pomo bard-isms, and it could pass for something off Kaputt. It helps that the whole piece is grounded in a danceable bass rumble describable with such words as delicious, chocolate and timbre – and also that vocalist Kana Otsubo has easily one of the best voices in J-indie. She’s as smooth as she’s ever sounded here; what a lady! What a band.
T – b – h, this song is a textbook example of why I love Spangle Call Lilli Line so much in general; while they have a small handful of great albums to their name, their knack for striking gold while style-hopping never fails to produce at least a couple of huge highlights for every middle-of-the-road outing. “Mio”’s parent album Dreams Never End is the most extreme example of this, for the most part stunningly mediocre and at times outright bad, but at one whole seventh of its runtime, this song alone makes me glad to have heard it. What a lovely discog – on which note, they have a new album out in a couple of weeks. ナイスタイミング！
Dolphin – “Дверь (Door)”
Pheromone recommended me a groovy album by the actually not particularly obscure Russian trip-hop/indietronica/shoegaze/other guitar stuff/big-beat staple man Dolphin on the basis that it was a better trip-hop album than Mezzanine. This is far from true, but it does have several winners and this song is one of them; I love it! The verses are slick in that uncertain-tension-amble vintage trip-hop way, and the chorus explodes into an alt-rock fuzzstorm backed by a surprisingly soulful vocal line. I bet this guy drinks like a champ and gives great hugs; I like Russia now (a tiny bit). Anyhow, I’m a big fan of how succinct everything here feels; the different sections snap in and out with perfect timing, and Mr. Dolphin anchors it all in steady beatwork. Great stuff. Bonus points for feeling incredibly 1999. I was there, you were there; throw hands and move yerself (baby).
Bambara – “Miracle”
Coming from a year-old album that already racked up moderate success, this one might be a little misplaced here. I don’t care. 100 ratings be damned, not enough of you checked Stray – and not enough of you loved it. Probably my favourite non-pop album of 2020, Bambara’s post-punk-meets-Southern gothic rampage through mosquito-infested, Death-plagued Georgian creepscapes is a tour de force with a vocal performance for the moon-fucking ages, and it’s still gripping me like a bad liver. There are about five songs I could have thrown up here, but “Miracle” takes the spot because it is the first one and in many ways the most straightforward. I recently took the plunge and gave the album a full lyrical read; highly recommended! The band weave together a morbid slew of interlinking narratives, bound up by common setting, timeframe, and the tottering presence of a potentially original incarnation of Death, a pale-eyed overweight greaser drifting on his whims and indifference like the ephemeral lightning bugs that herald his successive arrivals. It’s Nick Cave gone Sin City, with none of the cringe, and I came away with two major impressions:
- the closer “Machete” is an even stronger closing statement than I previously gave it credit for, plunging into a whole novel’s worth of plot and incremental tension and drawing all Stray’s thematic beats into a huge chilling finale, and conversely-
- “Miracle” is equally impressive for the way it opens the book on the album’s sprawling vignettes, crooked pathways and shallow clawmarks over the face of mortality with the single, sweaty image of a pole girl with bad teeth eyeing herself in the mirror and listening to the wind make foreboding noises.
God, it’s vivid. I can’t think of any other contemporary band that can conjure cigarette smoke out of clanging reverb and make me picture the dirt under their characters’ fingernails like this. What a start. What else does “Miracle” have? Quite a bit: it also contains a haunting as fuck horn motif, a good bassline and a climax so forceful it’ll predetermine the pace of your grandchildren’s heartbeats. As things come to a peak, frontman Reid Bateh howls through the ritualistic smut of the protagonist’s stage life, clinging to her chief precept meanness like a sordid incantation in the face of horrors to come. The album has begun: listen to it. Love it.
Jolin Tsai – I’m Not Yours (ft. Namie Amuro)
This is one of the most derivative bangers I’ve heard in my life. Jolin Tsai is Taiwanese; “I’m Not Yours” could be from literally any country where dance pop has ever existed. It is glorious and overblown and fun as hell and it would have been a huge shame not to share it with y’all. There’s something about the early ‘10s that makes midrange na-na-na mantras, shameless inevitable bass drops and nonsensical big-ups (all-of-my-girls-WHA!?) sound that much sweeter, perhaps as sweet as they’ll ever sound. Emeritus queen of J-pop Namie Amuro has a feature for swag value, and I now feel considerably more drawn to indiscriminately binge any of her full-lengths at random. The song also contains the lyric
Mirror mirror on the wall, boys are stupid, let them fall
(we still shine like disco ball)
Y’all know what to stan.
Faye Wong – 哪兒 (Nǎr ([“Where”])
According to the #internet, Faye Wong was the mother of all Chinese superdivas throughout the ‘90s and early ’00s. I know sod all about C-pop, so I decided to take this as truth and get on with my damn homework! This song in particular has sold me, partially because it is beautiful and majestic and ethereal and infectious, but mainly because it’s probably the best Cocteau Twins song not by Cocteau Twins. I kid you not, you could subtract those overdriven ‘90s guitar lines and mistake this from one of Blue Bell Knoll’s more streamlined songs without the slightest crinkle of confusion. The resemblance is so strong that I’m almost disappointed that this album is effectively my introduction to big name C-pop. I was gunning for national heritage, not an echo of Scottish dream pop!
Anyhow, at first I wondered if this was seismic coincidence, but it turns out that Faye Wong and Cocteau Twins had a history of collaboration prior to this album, to the point that the Twins wrote two of the tracks on it (not this one), so that’s cool. I’m excited to explore Wong’s discography further and see if she has anything more distinctive to say with her own voice, but in the meantime I adore this song! No shame in riding off the greats if you have their endorsement and sound almost as good! Hatchie gang, get your sorry act over here.