Monday, 28 February 2011

Adele - Someone Like You (The Thin Red Men Remix)

Sometimes you just want a big fat dance mix of your favourite pop ballad. Remember how good the High Contrast remix of Adele's Hometown Glory was? Well, now you get to dance away to her current Number 1 single Someone Like You too, courtesy of Thin Red Men (who've done a load of Cheryl Cole mixes in the past).

Alexis Jordan - Good Girl

I can't rave enough about this song. Every month there will always be one song that I fall in love with more than any other. And in February, this is most definitely it. Now, I saw Alexis last year at GAY opening for Nadine Coyle and was charmed with her highly endearing pop sweetness as well as the fact Happiness is rather amazing.

And where Happiness began, Good Girl follows - all dance-pop lightness with just that edge of pushing the boundaries. There's a number of reasons why the song works so well. For starters, that funky strutting beat and rubbery bass sound is utterly infectious. You can't not move your feet to it. Remember that Alexis is an American Idol winner, and then listen to the Euro-disco shimmer of her tracks and her awesomeness reaches all new levels.

Then comes the fact this song has fifty-million different choruses. There's that catchy 'I like...' bit, then the tears on the dancefloor moment of 'You might mistake me for a heartbreaker...' and then the chorus-proper as it were of 'Good girl... but I've been bad before...'  - If one of them doesn't hook you, the others will.

Now, most good pop songs would be happy to leave it there. But Good Girl goes further, just listen to those swirling guitars and strings, all swept up into one hypnotic pulse - those chord changes are simply divine. Some songs just have IT... that moment where something just feels so right.

Alexis Jordan. Good girl? She certainly is. And this song is very, very good too.

Video: Take That - Kidz

I love it when music videos just get it SO right. Where the video just fits the track SO well. Take That's Kidz does just that. I mean, just how amazing is a Take That space-ship coming down and landing in a city?! Very amazing.

Now, to be fair, I definitely prefer Girls Aloud's take on the whole 'futuristic popstars invade the Earth' thing when they did their Untouchable video, but Take That definitely come a very well deserved second.

What are the best bits of the video? Well, for starters, the band's costumes are just so fantastical and steam-punk - very befitting a band that is the epitome of old mixed with new. They're almost scary - Gary Barlow in all his military finest, Robbie with a chain-mail vest and Mark Owen looking like he's stepped off the set of the BBC's Merlin with that hooded robe and staff of his.

Oh, and there's lots of soldiers thrown in. And in our age of Spooks and Call of Duty, stuff like that always adds a bit of excitement to things.

'Welcome to the future of the world...' goes the song. If the future is as exciting as this video makes out, I want more.

Clare Maguire - Light After Dark

There's such an abundance of female singer-songwriters around at the moment that you're almost spoilt for choice. But Clare Maguire is the real thing. The genuine article. I've been in love with the scattering of free downloads and EPs she's released previously but now comes the debut album, the real test of her talent.

And you know what, for my penny's worth, this is a better album than those by Jessie J and Adele that are floating around in the shops at the moment. Both of those also represent extremely strong efforts, but with Clare Maguire, she makes things seem effortless. For her, the music becomes one and the same with her. Her sound is magical, deeply soulful, and comes back to the solid core of pure beauty that are her vocals. And boy are they amazing.

There's something of a Leona Lewis to Clare's voice, that husky deepness that speaks of raw passion and lends itself so well to big power ballads. Imagine the likes of Bonnie Tyler and Alison Moyet; those big female 80s voices you just don't get anymore. Clare is all this and more.

The 80s vibe manifests itself across the album which blends icy electronics and thunderous, industrial beats with piano. The Last Dance sees Clare at her most delicate and catchy, a pop gem as strong as anything Ellie Goulding can throw out.

In terms of highlights, they comes towards the end of the album; look out for the stunning You're Electric and the title track. Both see Clare at her most epic - so much so that they become almost filmic. There's this breathtaking futuristic/gothic feeling to the sound, music to sweep up and around the arches and halls of churches and cathedrals... and then on, higher and higher to the stars... onwards to the very limits of the universe.

Light After Dark is an album without bounds. It is vastly inventive, with Clare's talent laid bare for all to see. The sound is cold, but the emotions are infinitely open; tapping into memories we've all experienced. This is music on a universal scale, and Clare most definitely has what it takes to carry it.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Pierces - You'll Be Mine

The Pierces’ Love You More EP was one of my favourite collections of tracks from last year so I approached their new single with a little trepidation, not sure if they’d ever be able to live up to their previous glories. Thankfully though, their new single You’ll Be Mine allays all fears. It’s stunning. Again, love provides the theme for the girls’ folksy, poppy hybrid sound.
There’s a beautiful sun-kissed Balearic feel to the song; it speaks of long blazing days in the Mediterranean sun, and even longer nights relaxing on the beach as the waves rush into the shore. There’s touches of New Order’s classic Republic album here and more than a dash of Empire of the Sun’s We Are The People. Driven by a tuneful acoustic strum and delightful music-box-esque sparkle, the melodies are spot on, with a charming little refrain that will stick right in your head. As with the Love You More, this is utterly bewitching, demanding constant repeat listens.
You’ll Be Mine is released on 7th March.

Hunting for the edit...

In these days of party playlists and iPod mix-tapes, sometimes all we want is a radio edit. As artists seem to every-frequently pack their albums with four-minute-plus long tracks and lengthy instrumental segways between songs, we're often left with little bits and pieces that while perfectly fine in the context of the album, just don't fit when we're listening to the track individually.

Now, normally this wouldn't be a problem, but in an age of declining 'proper' single releases - where there will be no official CD release, or in some cases no digital release either. Instead an album campaign will just see a stream of 'promo singles' and the artist will just leave the public to download the lengthy album versions, forcing fans who want the edited versions to track down expensive radio promo's on Ebay or wait til the edit surfaces on some random compilation CD months later.

When we hear a song on the radio, that is the version of the song we want; yet still these versions never seem to surface with anything approaching regularity on the regular download services.

Maybe it's just the completist in me but sometimes all I want is a nice three-and-a-half minute long version of a song, all the awesomeness packed into a bite-size chunk I can comfortably fit into my daily commute.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

The Saturdays - Live at the HMV Hammersmith Apollo - 17th Feb 2011

Live gigs are a very mixed bag; their vastly unpredictable nature meaning you never know quite what you are going to get. But I can safely say that the London date of The Saturdays’ latest tour has secured itself a place amongst some of the best live shows I’ve ever experienced. The sheer sense of energy and emotion on offer at the gig was incredible. Standing six rows back from the stage, the connection with the girls was incredible. I’ve been to many gigs at the Hammersmith Apollo and the bands always seem to feed off the prestige and richness of the setting; and here, amidst the ornate, gilded arches and chandeliers, the Saturdays seemed to fit so well – British pop royalty.
The theme of fun and glamour is well established from the start with an inspired intro to the night; to the tune of the recent dance hit Barbra Streisand the girls call out the names of friends, family and fans in the audience – Not gonna lie, I was more than a little chuffed when they called out my name!
Leading on from this, the girls launch into a frenetic trio of upbeat tracks that encompass some of their finest moments; their most recent single Higher, the fan-favourite One Shot and the anthemic Up. The set-list serves as a reminder of just how consistent The Saturdays’ output has been. In a previous age, pop bands would churn out new albums in a conveyor-belt like system. Quality was by-the-by; all that mattered was quick sales. But the Saturdays belong to a more discerning age. Listeners demand a better standard of music, and The Saturdays are more than up to the challenge of producing some of the best pop out there. And most importantly, it is distinctly British. In an age where so much of the charts are full of American import, the girls continue to fly the flag high for the UK.
As the band perform some of their older tracks, you get a real sense that The Saturdays now have their own legacy; a proper place among contemporary pop culture. For Died In Your Eyes Una pulls out her guitar and strums along, testament to her years as a budding singer-songwriter in Ireland. Each girl brings something unique to the band, their personalities shining through both individually and as a group collective.
Whereas before The Saturdays perhaps occupied a relatively niche position - drawing crowds of in-the-know pop lovers - now their appeal is universal, the crowd encompassing the whole spectrum of society from young to old. With their delightful ITV2 documentary series The Saturdays 24/7 and extensive press coverage spurred on by Frankie and Rochelle’s high-profile relationships, they have well and truly found themselves in the centre of the public eye. With that said, The Headlines Tour seems a particularly apt name for their current run of shows.
Halfway through the gig the girls pull out a brilliant Rihanna medley – the chorus of Love The Way You Lie showcasing just how strong their vocals are, while What’s My Name sees Rochelle and Frankie working some seriously sexy dance moves. The costumes are equally attention grabbing - from sparkly, glittery dresses that are the very essence of pop to street-smart denim and day-glo hoodies, the clothes complimented the songs perfectly. Switching into sultry black leather skirts for the encore, they deliver the defiant Ego.
Throughout their career, The Saturdays have remained resolutely upbeat and positive. It’s part of their charm. Up, Higher, Work – the message conveyed in their singles is there for all to read. This is the band who’s ambition and passion for what they do has carried them forever onwards and upwards in an increasingly competitive industry. Tonight, The Saturdays were on the finest of forms – they gave it their all, and so did the audience. They are the headlines-making band for a headlines-defined age. And you know what? We Just Can’t Get Enough of them. An amazing night.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Best girl-crush ever - Rihanna and Cheryl

In addition to Take That's amazing performance of Kidz, my other BRIT awards highlight was without a doubt all the hard-core fan-gurling going on between those pinnacles of popstar hotness; Cheryl and Rihanna.

When Cheryl took to the stage to present Rihanna with her award for Best International Female and declared RiRi 'her girl crush', it was seriously the most adorable thing ever. (Definitely helped by the fact Cheryl endearingly seemed to be perhaps a little tipsy as she professed her love).

The best was yet to come though as Rihanna tweeted: 'Can Cheryl Cole NOT be so yummy??? Just ONCE!!!'

Wow. Just imagine that image in your head now... Yup.

Team CheRi FTW we say.

BRITs highlight - Take That perform Kidz live

Going on gut feeling, Take That's brilliant performance of Kidz was one of the best moments of the night. What a way to open the show! Loved the whole future distopia theme with all the riot police and the boys dressed up as stern dictator types. It fitted the harsh stomp-stomp of the track perfectly and those swooping camera angles really gave the performance that added sense of gravitas.

When I turn on to watch the BRITs, I want to see moments like this - something epic, something amazing; something that really marks this out as THE biggest night in the British music calendar.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Video: OMD - History of Modern (Part 1)

It's not often a music video really knocks you for six and makes you go WOW. But this one sure does. It's part of a movement a number of bands are going for recently where they hold an open competition for fans to create their own video for their latest single and the best one gets the accolade of becoming the 'official' video, going on to be serviced to the media etc. It cuts down costs for the band/record label and the fans get a cool competition and potential massive-kudos, acclaim and all round feeling of amazingness if their entry is chosen as the winner.

And so we have OMD's new single History of Modern (Part 1) - directed by Sweden's Lapantafilm, I love their stop-motion approach to the video. I don't know how long it must have taken to film but the end result is absolutely incredible. The references to past OMD album covers is very cool too, as is the a-ha Take On Me vibe that the whole thing has. Brilliant stuff.

Ringo Deathstarr - Colour Trip

Consistency. It’s a rare thing for an album to achieve. Even harder is maintaining that consistency while showcasing a variety of sounds. To create that truly versatile, gripping, wonderful album... well, it takes a lot of talent. Enter Ringo Deathstarr, who make a rather good go of doing just that with their album Colour Trip.
There’s touches of The Cure all over the album, that same keen balance between  jovial, light-heartedness and the melancholy. Tracks like the brilliant single So High represent the band at their most cheery, delicate nursery-rhyme-like melodies swirling over a jumble or sonic delights. There’s a swirl of energy at the heart of this song - and most of the album for that matter - that sucks you in.
Kaleidoscope is even more infected with the sound of the 80s, smeared in the sounds of grim urban streets. There’s something of The Stone Roses masterpiece of a debut in the vocals and gritty, scratchy guitar-work as well as dashes of The Chameleons. This vibe continues onto Day Dreamy, all post-punk and echoey. It’s funny as hailing from Texas, Ringo Deathstarr are as about as far from the American deep-south as you can get. If it wasn’t for the accents, they’d sound almost unmistakeably British. And if you ever feel the whimsical edges are getting too much, tracks like Chloe brings a strong rock core back to the album with big, epic guitar solos.
The album Colour Trip seems particularly apt. This is an artistic sort of album. The whole female/male vocal duo works very well and it’s something I always think we should hear more of in music. Colour Trip feels like a painting, each part carefully applied to another, building and building until the entire creation presents itself. Perhaps that’s the secret to its consistency. Either way, this is an album that will keep you coming back for more, chiefly because it offers so much. It’s an album that wants you to explore deeper and deeper into it. Taken at face value, this is an extremely strong rock album with lots of lovely retro touches. But zooming in, picking the various pieces apart, it holds so much more.
Colour Trip is available to download on iTunes now.

Nicki Minaj feat. Lil Wayne - Roman's Revenge

Roman's Revenge is without a doubt one of Nicki Minaj's defining moments, and if you loved the Eminem version on her album, then the Lil Wayne radio edit is a lovely little bonus. There's just so much energy, so much enthusiasm. Almost so much that it becomes cocky. But we love Nicki for it.

'Rah rah, like a dungeon dragon'. I defy anyone who listens to this song not to have this stuck in your head by the end of the day. It's genius lyrics like this that elevate Nicki a cut above all the rest. Oh, and Lil Wayne doesn't let us down either: 'I like a big wet pussy with a fork and a spoon'. Straight to the point eh?

That mechanistic machine-gun beat drives away as Nicki spits her words out - hell, it's almost Shakespearean the way she takes on her various roles in the last minute or so of the song. Slightly terrifying, rather cute and endearing, but very very cool.

The only thing I miss in this radio edit is the genius British accent outro Nicki does in the album version. 'You've gone mad, MAD I TELL YOU!' But of course, with Nicki, every inch of the madness is to be lapped up and embraced, because quite frankly, what she does with it is amazing.

Monday, 14 February 2011

James Blake - James Blake

There’s a danger when so much hype is placed upon you, that you are never quite able to live up to it. But that’s not something London singer-songwriter James Blake has to worry about, because his self-titled debut is sensational – and in all the right ways.
Most of you will have heard his inspired cover of Feist’s Limit To Your Love on the radio, but placed in the context of the album, it sounds even better. The bass throbs away when you least expect it, and if you’re listening on good quality speakers, it really is something else. This isn’t just music you hear, it’s music you feel.
James’s vocals lie at the heart of this; they’re soulful, packed with emotion, and the way he multi-tracks them throughout the album, laying one layer on top of another presents a unique and attention-grabbing experience for the listener. The layers slide in and out of each-other, coming forward then falling back like waves, the sound of a distant idyllic shore.
Tracks like To Care (Like You) are classic chill-out, and those looking for a simple categorisation of this album will find it there. Despite all the singer-songwriter stuff being bandied around, this is a laid back electronic album at its core – tripped out beats and bleepy synths painting minimalistic soundscapes. The important thing though is that James’s personality and soul is what takes this album to the next level; that gives it that personal element, reaching out beyond the CD player and into the air itself. The top 10 UK chart placing the album has already achieved is testament to that personal connection being made.
This is an unpredictable album – it will never do what you expect it to do. See Why Don’t You Call Me? as a prime example. It starts off as a simple, piano led ballad. Even the name seems steeped in classic love overtures. But then halfway through, the techno-wizardry kicks in, the James Blake magic as it were, and the tracks skips and jumps away with itself, chilling altered vocals breathing out over stabs of icy static.
In its most outrĂ© moments, like the almost entirely acapella Lindisfarne I, vocoder is thrown into the mix – threatening to make the album seem almost too cold, too mechanical. But it never does. Instead the robotic touches only add to the charm; they are part of the mystique, part of the wonder and awe that James Blake casts on the listener. His debut is without doubt an intensely beautiful album, instilled with a distinct sense of identity. And it lives up to every single inch of the hype.

Rye Rye - RYEot powRR

Something getting a lot of rotation on my iPod this week is Rye Rye's fantastic new mixtape, rather awesome-ly titled 'RYEot powRR'. She's signed to M.I.A.'s N.E.E.T. Recordings label. Rye Rye is quirky, fun and feisty - for those hooked on Nicki Minaj at the moment, Rye Rye is a perfect second-course to move on to. The mixtape is full of energetic reworkings of contemporary hits like Whip My Hair and Party In The USA. Expect choppy beats and big, crunchy basslines. I'm feeling a bit of a Gorillaz vibe at times too.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Take That - Kidz

Ever since Take That 'returned', I've been longing for them to return to the sound of their dance-pop roots; the music that made them such a big success in the early 90s. And with Kidz, the second single from their Progress album, they finally do.

Except, now they're even better than before. Gone are the acid-house piano riffs and drum machine, replaced by a hard industrial beat, crunching guitar power chords and buzz-saw synths. It's almost Nine Inch Nails.

It's also a brilliant chance for Mark Owen to shine. I've always been a fan of Mark's vocals and their David Bowie-esque lilt (his solo track Four Minute Warning is a much over-looked pop gem of a song). Kidz, with its minimal, stark verses and crystaline, epic choruses really is a 'progress' for the band - their big, Barlow-penned soft-rock ballads are all very well and good, in many cases even amazing - but this is a new side of Take That. It's fun, risque, daring and above all, very exciting.

Kidz is released 21st February.

Max Shire - Goodbye Twenty Nine

Intense personal feelings, nostalgia for childhood, growing older. They’re feelings we all encounter at one point or another in our lives, and in his new album Goodbye Twenty Nine London singer-songwriter Max Shire explores all this and more. Rehearsed for two months and then recorded over twenty days, the album is a labour of time and effort, infused with emotion.
The vocals are natural, full of a kind of inner pride, laced with the touches of sadness. There’s a tension going on here, fought out within these tracks, back and forth. The guitar is melodic, ranging from gentle to forceful at a moment’s notice. The Radiohead influences are obvious, but for those that find Thom Yorke too quirky these days, Max Shire offers a more grounded alternative.
The tracks are long and sprawling, the majority of the songs on the album lasting over six minutes. It gives the whole record a real sense of being an audio environment; a blank canvas that Shire is painting his sounds upon. There’s room for him to explore, to showcase all aspects of his musicianship. These tracks are the grey urban streets, the sounds telling the story of all that which has passed upon them. Office Scum is a definite highlight – as the shortest track here it’s also the easiest way in, distilling everything Max Shire is about into three and a half minutes of greatness.
At times, when Shire really lets loose - such as on Strum – he pulls out epic, Muse-like guitar solos. And it is this capacity for versatility that keeps the listener hooked throughout the album. This is not the sound of a tame indie band who can be pigeon-holed in five minutes and then forgotten about, here the music speaks for itself; constantly changing and evolving from end to start. There’s the string-laced Late that comes across like Biffy Clyro at the more gentle moments. This is beautiful, chilled out rock to calm the soul, to sit back and simply relax to.

Lady Gaga - Born This Way

Lady Gaga. New single. Need we say more? Big music moments like this are the stuff the pop world is made for. All that anticipation and intense waiting, all for four minutes of brand new amazingness. Because surely Lady Gaga's new single will be amazing? Or are we hoping for too much from the woman who has become a living icon and one of the biggest forces in music today?

Well, Born This Way starts with one of those classic 'Lady Gaga does some sultry spoken word stuff' bits. The whole song is VERY Madonna's Express Yourself. And it is oh so camp. Like the campest thing ever. The vocals are almost annihilated by the relentlessly thumping beat. All the way through the track, just 'oomph oomph oomph'. But then again, a good healthy dollop of dance-pop 'oomph' is what Gaga has always done so well.

Is it better than Bad Romance? No. Is it a good pop song? Definitely. It's catchy, it's dance-able. So far, so Gaga. But what is new here? After all, this is where we see if she really can sustain all the momentum from her first record onto that 'difficult second album'. What works so well is that all the key Gaga elements are still here in healthy doses, but given a good shine and gloss-up. This is a far more uplifting, positive Gaga. The darkness that pervaded so much of The Fame Monster is pushed back, replaced by a far brighter sound. If The Fame was the descent into a seedy night-club, revelling in pleasure and drink all night long, then Born This Way is waking up the next morning and doing it all day too.

The more you listen to it, the more it strikes you just how Madonna-esque the song is. If you were a fan of her Confessions on a Dancefloor then you will adore Born This Way. That big disco beat is irresistible, the choruses ready-made to be shouted out across arenas and stadiums all the world over. Born This Way is massive, American, amazing, and most important of all, completely Gaga.

Huski - Girl.Kill.Smile (Shine a Light) [Pely Remix]

Huski are a quirky North-London based electro-pop duo and they certainly know how to craft a catchy tune. Take their single Girl.Kill.Smile (AMAZING name for a track by the way). It's equal measures Mini Viva and Ke$ha, with maybe even a dash of Girls Aloud's more 'out-there' moments thrown in too. Basically, lots of dancey loveliness - and packed with more attitude than you can shake a stick at.

Chant like choruses of 'Shine a light!', a moody, bubbling bassline and razor sharp, trancey synths - this track has got it all. The band describe their music as a visual and aural feast of decadence, delight and destruction - and it's a fairly accurate representation; decadance being the key word. Girl.Kill.Smile is dripping in vibes of pleasure and enjoyment, a futuristic dance-floor filler for the electro-pop aficionado.

Oh, and did I mention that the track is free to download from Soundcloud? Get it now, it's awesome.

Girl.Kill.Smile (Shine a Light) [Pely Remix] by huskimusic

Polly Mackey & The Pleasure Princple - Higher (Jeuce Rework)

There's something enchanting about a great amazing. Take Higher by Polly Mackey & The Pleasure Princple. There's been a fair deal of buzz about the Jeuce rework of the track and it's most definitely justified. From those quieter moments, all delicate touches of rubbery synths... then right into the heart of the track and the chorus, a pure hand-aloft in the club moment. It's uplifting, anthemic, everything a memorable dance mix should be. This is the soundtrack to memories of an amazing night out. And all centered around a strong, soulful vocal.

Hailing from Wrexham, Polly Mackey & The Pleasure Principle hold the honour of opening SXSW 2010 and with Robert Harder on production duties (Babyshambles, Brian Eno), they're in good hands. BBC6Music taste-maker Lauren Lavern is also a big fan of them.

Songs called 'Higher' seem to be going through something of a renaissance at the moment, just look at The Saturdays or Taio Cruz. We can definitely add this one to the list too. It's fantastic.

Polly Mackey & The Pleasure Principle - Higher (JEUCE REWORK) by ThePlayground

Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Wanted - Gold Forever

I've always had a bit of a soft spot for The Wanted, All Time Low was one of my favourite pop songs from last year, so I was intrigued to hear what their new single would sound like. Well, for starters, it begins like some epic Coldplay/Take That ballad. Definitely more than a few pages being taken out of the big Gary Barlow songbook at any rate.

And then, suddenly, it goes all Basshunter, erupting into a massive synth riff that quite literally blows your socks off. Boybands seem to be quite big fans of ballad-into-dance songs at the moment (Look at JLS, they've done it twice). But let's be honest it's a formula that works, and if something works well, why not use it again. It's a rule The Wanted stick to closely; you even get a rhythmic All Time Low string section thrown into the mix.

All in all, Gold Forever is a strong track, my only reservations being that there are so many better tracks on The Wanted's debut album which will probably never see the light of the day as singles now. But anyways, this track is for Comic Relief, so go out and buy it - do your bit for charity etc.

Oh, and when I heard the title of this song was Gold Forever, I had a brief image of this being some raved up futuristic cover version of Spandau Ballet's Gold. Now that would have been amazing.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Why the BBC's new sci-fi drama Outcasts is just so good...

In the US, mysterious sci-fi shows are ten-a-penny. We’ve had Lost, and now The Event. So it was about time the UK got its own slice of the action – and show that TV series can be intelligent, adventurous and not spoon-feed its viewers. There’s a need for shows that trust their viewers to stick with them for the long haul, to invite them in, to say ‘Come along for the ride, see through our eyes, hear through our ears. Enjoy the whole process instead of just the big pay-off in the finale.’ And so, filling in to what I like to call the ‘Silent Witness slot’ in BBC1’s schedule, we have Outcasts.
One of the reasons it is so good is because not only is it a brilliant sci-fi, but it is a brilliant drama too. It’s this fundamental element that stands at the heart of the show, driven forward by the excellent cast, ensuring that while there is a whole host of mysterious, futuristic goings on, there is always a core theme of great dialogue and character interplay.
This is a serious show, and as such, probably bears far more in kin to the likes of Star Trek than that holy grail of BBC sci-fi, Doctor Who. Now, I’m a massive Doctor Who fan, but I’m sure as many other fans will testify, there will be days when you want your sci-fi without all the comedy trappings and ‘funkiness’ that are a fundamental part of Doctor Who. And in terms of sci-fi that is ‘serious’, Outcasts has it in bucketloads. It’s not even so much that it’s gritty – that all time favourite word for describing drama’s – because it isn’t. Instead it depicts a world that seems to be hanging on by the finger-tips; the average citizen kept in relative bliss while the inner workings of society revolve around the truth that they still really know so little about the world they’ve chosen to call home.
One of my favourite moments from the first two episodes is when President Tate addresses the captain of the space-ship in orbit around Carpathia. Those high-above the planet, floating in the vast expanse of space have travelled for five years from Earth – and as it slowly dawns on us that most of them are not going to make it... well, it was one of the most deeply moving moments I’ve seen in a TV show in a long time. And as the captain made his Titanic-esque ‘going down with the ship’ speech, you felt like you were there with the President, hoping and praying that at least some of those poor souls would survive.
But what about the cast? President Richard Tate is perfect, encompassing all the gravitas and order needed for such a role, but maintaining those rough edges of unsurity at times that tell the story of a man who has had his role thrust open him.
It’s a delight to see Daniel Mays in the role of Cass. He was absolutely brilliant in Ashes to Ashes, and in many ways plays a similar role here. He’s essentially a police-man again, unpredictable, head-strong and with a biting wit. Some of the shows best one-liners come from him, especially his banter with Jack. He’s got that rogue-ish charm going on, the classic blokey every-man, but with deeper layers of secrets hidden deep, deep down.
And then we have Fleur, playing a brilliant counterpoint to Cass. In many ways she’s very similar to him; strong, intelligent, with an almost tomboyish streak. But whereas Cass has a dark side to him, Fleur has a vulnerability, that softens her and transforms her into perhaps the shows central heroine.
This is the great wild-west, playing out in the future. A lone fortress of sanctuary amidst a barren desert of unknowns. But what a beautiful desert it is though. Filmed in South Africa, the show has pulled a pure winner here, everything is absolutely breathtakingly stunning. The cinematography is simply wonderful, almost painting-like. It feels at once arty, but hyper-futuristic. Earth-like, but also inherently alien. I’m glad the show has decided to keep the CGI shots to a minimum, because quite-frankly it doesn’t need them.  Aside from obvious cases like shots of the space-ship and the wide shots of Forthaven in its entirety, there’s an organic natural-ness to the rest of the visuals that at times is bewitching and enchanting, and at others, highly unsettling.
Two episodes in, the plot is still cloaked in shadows and mystery. But already the characters have more than come into their own. You feel for this ragged band of survivors, these outcasts, you want them to succeed. One of the reasons I’ve always loved sci-fi so much is because of its capacity to conjure up vivid new worlds, provide an escape from the normal rules and confines of our world. And in terms of Outcasts, the show has done this admirably. There’s still a lot for us to learn about Carpathia, and I’m right there with the characters, eager to experience more.

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - History Of Modern (Part 1)

OMD, as a band, are masters of indentifying the best parts of their extensive back-catalogue and skilfully re-investing them them back into their newest project – re-enhanced sounds for a new audience but with all the familiarity the long-term fans will adore too. If You Want It was the triumphant return, packed with all the epic grandeur the band could master, twinned with a knack for lyrics that at their best are pure poetry in motion.
In the case of History Of Modern (Part 1), there’s a definite vibe of perhaps their most well known hit Enola Gay. It’s got that optimistic, cheery skip to it – an almost call-and-response synth line. There’s a constant, thumping beat to it too; relentless, energetic – a reminder that even now, more than 30 years since OMD graced the airwaves, that they are still just as talented as songwriters, just as enthused about making great synth-pop for the masses.
Sister Marie Says was a slightly predictable single choice, with its impact also rather dampened by the fact a demo version of it had already been given as a free download in the run-up to the album release. So it’s something of a joy to see the band go for this, a more adventurous single choice from an album where so many of the tracks could be singles. Hey, it even has a cool title in the form of that rather marvellous (Part 1). Now how many song names have that in them?
You also get the gorgeous cover artwork too – I’ve always been a fan of all the singles from an album era having similar covers that tie together; so when those covers are made by design legend Peter Saville, that idea of cohesion is emphasised even more. There’s something inherently collectable about them all – just imagine them looking all neat and glossy next to each-other!
The CD release of the single is conveniently packed with all the b-sides from across the entire album era and a number of new remixes of History Of Modern itself, including one by Selebrities which you can hear below.
History Of Modern (Part 1) is released February 28th.

OMD - History of Modern (part I) - Selebrities Remix by 100% Records

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Urban Myth Club - Open Up

Open Up has been a long time in the making. Dance music collective Urban Myth Club released their last record Helium all the way back in 2006 and received mass critical acclaim for it, some even hailing it amongst the best downtempo albums ever released. They then took to the stage at Glastonbury, The Big Chill and an assortment of other festivals. And now, come 2011, they’re back – and one listen to their new album shows that the wait has been well worth it. Prepare to lose yourself in one of the most hypnotic, relaxing, entrancing albums you have ever experienced.
The music here is equally at home sound-tracking winter chills or summer bliss, and that perhaps is its strongest asset; how universal it is. Innovative but never so much as to alienate listeners... ambient, but with some real rhythm and groove interspersed without, particularly on opener Wake Up. As an album of contrasts, Open Up flows exceedingly well; each track sitting perfectly at home side by side with its neighbour. Vocal-led tracks give way to expansive, instrumental moments. The album has it all.
Trippy little acid house bleeps fizz away while the beats click and rustle; the sound of grass blowing in a warm breeze. Urban Myth Club’s music is evocative to the max. They have a keen sense for melody too. Take a listen to the Bjork-esque Surrender and dissolve in the sheer bliss of that chorus. Then there’s the Moby vibes on Coming Home, all futuristic and hyper-modern; the vocals crystalline and perfectly at one with the swelling synthetic strings in the background. It quite literally transports you away to another world, and the sheer power of some of these tracks can only be marvelled at.
Even more impressive though, is the fact that just when you think you’ve heard it all, the album turns itself on its head and pulls out an entrancing slice of acoustic heaven in the form of We Have Landed. Piano and delicately picked guitar; the charm is in the simplicity. And these touches seep out into the rest of the album, little pieces you pick up on more and more with repeat listens. Fragile harp strings, or the funky basslines on display in Fragile. This is an album that gives and gives. Pure magic.
Open Up is released February 28th.

Sunday Girl - Stop Hey

Put simply, Stop Hey  is one of the greatest singles I've ever heard from a new artist. With a killer chorus, synths that could have come straight from an OMD 80s classic and a feisty attitude that raises Sunday Girl well above her contemporaries it really is a must-download track.

If you've scanned through the pages of the glossy mags over the past few months, you'll have likely seen lots of praise and attention heaped on Sunday Girl herself, Jade Williams. The photogenic pop darling is well-loved in the style circuits and was named's 'One to watch'. And she really is - If you've heard either of her previous singles; the dreamy, hypnotic Four Floors or her inspired cover of Self Control, you'll know what I mean.

If you're a fan of well-written, brilliantly produced electro-pop then Sunday Girl and Stop Hey will be right up your street. Definitely one of the brightest up-and-coming stars to look out for this year.

Stop Hey is available to download on iTunes now.

Read my interview with Sunday Girl here.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Coming soon... Nicola Roberts, the solo album!

We've been hearing some rather exciting news on Twitter that the debut solo album from lovable pop starlet Nicola Roberts might be coming out as early as April this year and that it's already all recorded and ready to go! Could this mean that we'll be hearing the first single from Miss Roberts on the airwaves very soon indeed? We've already heard how she's been working with trendy band Metronomy on the album and judging by Girls Aloud tracks like It's Magic, Nicola's album could very well be one of the best albums of 2011. We can't wait!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Rothko - Starry Eyed (Ellie Goulding cover)

If you'd ever wondered what a rock cover of Ellie Goulding's Starry Eyed would sound like, then wait no longer. Reading-based band Rothko do a pretty admirable job of covering the young songstress's hit single. The four-piece, comprised of Tom Woodford, Elliot Wilkins, Nick Ellis, Steve Snyman are playing the Camden Barfly on the 22nd February and if you like the sound of them, you can also check them out at Reading's Face Bar on the 4th of March.

For more info, check out the band's Facebook page here.

Nadine Coyle - Put Your Hands Up

February 21st sees the release of Nadine Coyle's seconds solo single Put Your Hands Up, a song many fans latched onto as one of her albums definite highlights. Whereas the title track and lead single saw Nadine tackling those rock vibes, Put Your Hands Up is an intriguing blend of R&B and dance - resulting in a song that you could almost imagine fitting just as easily on Cheryl's Messy Little Raindrops. With a sexy, sultry chorus, some cool little brass sections and a floaty, ambient instrumental section that sounds like it could have come straight out of some Ibiza trance club, this track really does have it all.

It's well worth checking out the Dave Aude mix of the track too which transforms an already dancey song into an all-out club banger. Here, any vestiges of 'adult-contemporary' Nadine are stripped away and replaced by an empowered dancefloor diva (a side of the star I know many feel is her best). It's mixes like these that show just how vesatile her voice actually is, soaring above the thumping beats and grinding synth basslines. You get the feeling that coming from some anonymous dance outfit, the likes of Radio 1 would be all over a club anthem like this, but ah well... Only time will tell if the next stage of the Nadine/Tesco is a success, but with tracks as good as Put Your Hands Up, it more than deserves to be.

Put Your Hands Up is released February 21st.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Wild Palms - Delight In Temptation

North London five-piece Wild Palms present their delicate, tender side on new single Delight in Temptation. ‘All of a sudden everything just started working’ speaks band frontman Lou Hill of the recording process, and there’s a real sense of that immediacy and sudden revelation of how things should be here. From the subtle beginnings of the song to the epic, rousing cries of the chorus, it represents new outlooks on life, an approach from all angles, leaving nothing to chance.
If you can’t wait to hear more from Wild Palms, their previous single Deep Dive is well worth checking out too - reverberating guitars, gritty, tough... yet  somehow fragile at the same time. Their sound is hard to pin down - it’s constantly alive, every second throwing something new at you – innovating and evolving. There’s definite touches of early 80s post-punk in there though and maybe even a dash of New Romantic flamboyance too.
Delight in Temptation is release on the 14th March.

On air/On sale - When the public just won’t wait

Picture the scene.  You’re cruising down the road in your car and hear a song you love on the radio.  Maybe it’s a long awaited comeback from one of your favourite artists or maybe it’s a brand new act.  Later that day you sit down at your computer, load up the iTunes store and search for the track, only to find it’s not out for another month.  Instant frustration!
But times are changing - Take pop darling Britney Spears and her brilliant new single Hold It Against Me as a case in point.  The song premiered on January 10th and went on sale in the US the next day.  But in the UK, the single originally wasn’t set to be released until February 20th, a whole five weeks later than the US.  But due to overwhelming public demand, record labels Sony and Universal decided to bring the release date forward and make the single available to download on UK iTunes.
They call this new system On air/On sale, and while sounding like one of those fancy ‘buzzword’ slogans marketing types dream up in offices, it may very well represent the future of music.  In other words - now, if you want Britney’s latest slice of hot, catchy-as-hell dance-pop, you don’t have to wait an age for it (Please do download it by the way, it’s properly amazing).
The system has already been used extensively in America; and as television, school slang and the Iraq war have shown us, where America leads, Britain usually follows.
Interestingly, the whole situation of delayed release dates in the UK has also thrown up the bizarre situation of what I like to call ‘budget versions’.  As there is a huge demand for big new singles, there are companies out there that specialise in quickly pumping out versions of these songs and putting them up on iTunes so that music fans eager to download the real version of the song will often accidently download the ‘budget version’.  This system is essentially a factory of mediocrity, as it were - an endless stream of cheap imitations that are never as good as the real thing, but that continue to thrive because people simply aren’t willing to wait.  They want their new music, and they want it now.
If you’ve ever had the misfortune of downloading one of these budget versions by accident, or just had a listen because you want some cheap laughs, you’ll know these awful ‘cover’ versions are voiced by poor karaoke singers belting the lyric out over backing tracks that sound like they’ve been cooked up in someone’s bedroom on an economy-price keyboard.
Clearly there is an issue with release dates.  While the traditional method of playing songs on the radio for a few weeks to build up demand before they go on sale has its merits, the music industry has shown itself time and time again to be a thing of constant change.
Maybe the moves made by Sony and Universal simply represent the next element of change.  With 99% of the UK singles market now comprised of digital downloads, a system of On air/On sale is looking more and more likely to become a reality.

The Go! Team - Buy Nothing Day

Some songs fill you with such a sense of unadultered joy and good feeling you can scarcely believe they truly exist. They don’t quite seem real, more like something conjured out of dreams and fantasy, a blurry memory of happiness that flashes only for an instant through the humdrum grey of ordinary life. The Go! Team’s Buy Nothing Day is one such song, and as a first single from their new album Rolling Blackouts, it really is perfect. The ideal lead single from a record is one that hits the listener with a bang, that cry of ‘We’re back!’, the call of an old friend from across the road.
And Buy Nothing Day is all this and more. With lovely 60s harmonies and twangly guitar reminiscent of the Mama’s and Papa’s this is a song of sunshine, smiles and pure radiance. The verses are almost childlike in their punky outlook on the world. And then comes the chorus, which is quite simply one of the best I’ve heard this year so far. They really don’t come like this anymore. Think back to the likes of the Manic Street Preachers, big sing-along choruses that fill you up with sheer emotion.
In a perfect world, a song like Buy Nothing Day would be Number 1 for a month at the very least, and you’d hear it playing from every car radio across town. But for the time being at least, when this song comes up on your iPod shuffle, you can guarantee you’ll be feeling better than before. Pure happiness in sonic form.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Britney Spears' new album cover! 'Femme Fatale'

Now THAT is what I call a hot album cover. Those eyes! And the hair! As a Britney Spears fan you just imagine Miss. Spears rolls out of bed looking that amazing in the morning, make-up all perfectly done, hair arranged exactly to achieve that precise Wow! factor. If the album sounds as good as it looks, we're all in for a treat. And judging by how good Hold It Against Me is, it could quite easily achieve that.

The Devil's Conspiracy - Return To Sender EP

Hampshire and Surrey based rock trio The Devil’s Conspiracy are set to hit the live circuit soon, supporting Love Amongst Ruin on their UK tour. The band’s EP Return To Sender echoes many of the sounds of the band they’re opening for, expansive walls of guitar noise that flow effortlessly from moments of melodic ambience to raw, frenetic power chords.
In Denial and I Want To Burn Like You are big punky tracks that seem infused with the sense of freedom. I remember back in my youth I used to play the racing videogame Burnout and tracks like this would serve as the perfect soundtrack to it. There’s that energy, speed, with a rebellious edge... a sense of adventure.
With three years of touring behind them, you can almost taste the enthusiasm in the tracks – this a band that lives for the thrill of it all. Sound-wise, The Devil’s Conspiracy come with touches of You Me At Six and Feeder, as well as echoing many of the elements of Love Amongst Ruin themselves. Those looking for more tender moments need look no further than the EP's title track – it’s perhaps this song most of all where the band’s skill, versatility and musicianship shines most brightly.
The Return To Sender EP is available to download on iTunes now.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Brother - Time Machine

Hailing from Slough and signed to Geffen Records, Brother are being touted as one of the hottest new things in music at the moment. With coverage in The Sun (featuring some amazing caricatures drawn by the band’s front-man Leonard Newell), they are on a swift rise to fame and their song Time Machine, available as a free download from their website certainly backs up the hype.
There chorus’s are pure Oasis, all ‘Love is a time machine, bringing you back to me...’, epic and anthemic. It’s fair to say Brother definitely have some of that magic Gallagher swagger to them and they use every scrap of it available to them to pack into their music. They’re also their own distinct band though, the verses in particular marking out their own particular identity. It’s still full of classic rock n’ roll vibes but injected with a hip sense of the here and now. With the Brit-pop legends of the past behind us, Brother strive to create something new and exciting. And with Time Machine, they’re most definitely succeeding.

Chapel Club - Palace

When a band releases their debut album, it is all about first impressions. This is the big time, your chance to convince the masses you are worth investing in. And as debut albums go, Chapel Club’s Palace is a profoundly good one. The band’s guitarist Michael Hibbert says of the album that it is about “not being afraid to be too ambitious. We wanted to take the grandeur and force of the lyrics and make a record that resonates on a large emotional scale.” And he’s spot on. Palace is an album that builds itself around ambition and grandeur, and it succeeds.
There’s touches of early New Order and Echo & The Bunnymen here, particularly on Blind Light and Five Trees respectively, but only at their more guitar-orientated moments. Chapel Club are not a synth band. Instead they specialise in hefty post-punk guitar hooks - the tracks are powerful, big; certainly more weighty than contemporaries like White Lies, who their sound shares more than a lot in common with. Songs like After The Flood are atmospheric, explorative pieces; an experiment in just how many sounds you can pull out of a guitar.
As an album, Palace paints a bleak, modern landscape, a place of harsh, mechanistic sounds. Rhythmic basslines, thundering drum beats, wailing guitar lines. When you listen to this album, it is almost as if you are dropped into a factory-like labyrinth of sonic qualities and made to pick your way out. But the important thing is that this is a pleasurable experience, for the deeper you look into these songs, unpacking the towering wall of sound that manifests itself in tracks like White Knight Position, the more you get from this album.
The Shore has a more cinematic quality to it, the potential soundtrack to countless slick, American TV drama’s. You can almost picture a stark, rain-lashed cityscape now as you listen to the track. This is music to think to, and at six minutes long, there is ample thinking time provided. Reaching the second half of the album, the aforementioned Blind Light stands out again and again as a highlight. Indeed, it is refreshing to see that Palace, as an album, bucks the trend that so many albums fall prey too: starting well, only to trail into mediocrity in the second half. And with the sense of atmosphere Chapel Club create, consistency lends itself even more to ensuring a complete listening experience.
iTunes are currently offering O Maybe I from the album as their free single of the week.

Cher Lloyd's debut album cover

Let's have a look at the cover of Cheryl Lloyd's debut album shall we? I have to say, personally, I think this is perfect. When we first saw Cher on X Factor, fronting up her own unique brand of rap-laced pop, this is the kind of album visuals I envisioned. It's dainty, but hard too. Cutesy, but credible too.

We're loving the vamped up look, it's almost gothic. And nice hand positioning too, it's almost as if she's resting her head on her hands because she's tired after the frenzy of recording the album. And then there's the hoodie, giving the picture that definitive urban vibe.

All that said though, Cher looks very beautiful on the album cover, and we can't wait to hear what the record itself sounds like!