I'm not difficult to please. In my pop music I want plenty of slanting, disorienting, otherworldly weirdness, and in my so-called "weird" music I want moments of gloriously shining, cloud-breaking pop. 2008 is starting off on a good foot thanks to a few artists who embrace one or the other of those dichotomies. On the side of palatable strangeness I've witnessed the likes of Evangelicals and Bon Iver taking off-kilter, oddly halting art fare and then shooting it through with occasional bursts of unabashed pop prettiness and/or straightforward fervor. It's a trick Panda Bear and Marnie Stern performed with aplomb last year, and it's thrilling when it works, when disparate messy threads suddenly coalesce into something that strikes directly at the heart.
Perhaps even more exciting, and certainly more subversive, is mass-appeal pop that distorts and refracts convention in unexpected places to create something catchily immediate yet alluringly unfamiliar. The dude who's really knocking my socks off right now with this strategem is The-Dream, heretofore best known for penning Rihanna's uber-inescapable "Umbrella." As you'd expect with this record being a songwriter/producer's baby, the stakes don't seem quite as high as if The-Dream was some studio/label's creation, and hence he's free to indulge in all types of chicanery, gleefully mashing ethereality up against sweet sweet raunch like a true inheritor of Prince and R. Kelly's mantles. The disembodied, floating quality of "I Luv Your Girl," the terrific contrast of head-rushing chorus and syrup-sippin' sample on "She Needs My Love," (not to mention Kells-approved filth like "she keep them thongs ch-ch-chewing on her asshole") and the sheer audaciousness of "Falsetto" -- it all adds up to maybe my top record so far in '08, fuck if it came out on 12/11/07.