Thursday, 31 March 2011

Sucker Punch... where dreams become reality

I’ve long had dreams of a film in the vein of the Final Fantasy video-games, or a movie where a plucky girl-band-esque group kick serious butt. I never thought such dreams would ever feed through into reality. But then along came Sucker Punch, the film that sees the true wonders of the imagination painted out in the most vivid way possible. Sitting down to watch a special press-screening of the film at the BFI IMAX - accompanied by a brilliant and highly informative Q&A session with the movie’s director Zack Snyder – I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d seen the trailers and thought the film looked cool. I was about to find out just how cool.
The story is that of 20 year old ‘Baby Doll’ who is shipped off to a mental asylum by her cruel step-father. To escape the impossible horror of the situation, Baby Doll immerses herself in the fantasy world of her own mind, striking up a friendship with four fellow girl-inmates. And it is the adventures of this feisty fivesome that become the foundations of the jaw-dropping spectacular that is Sucker Punch.
The film is a pure visual treat, a piece of the sweetest eye-candy you’ll ever taste. The pace never slackens; this is the action film genre at its most relentless. It really is Kill Bill on steroids. Never before have I felt myself going ‘Oh My God, that was so cool!’ so many times in a film. I was actually grinning ear to ear at times simply from the pure sense of awesome-ness on offer – this film sure as hell knows its audience and plays to it at every moment. The result: a fine-tuned end-product that hits all the right buttons. Let’s just have a run-down of some of some of the stuff on offer:
Lots and lots of fight-sequences.
A mind-boggling amount of slow motion.
Girls in skimpy outfits firing lots of guns.
Giant samurai with glowing red eyes.
Steampunk clockwork Nazi’s.
A massive siege on a castle, complete with giant fire-breathing dragon.
A bomb-laden train hurtling across a backdrop dominated by a Saturn-like planet hanging in the sky.
I Robot-style ‘mechanised soldiers’.
And then there’s the grim, oppression of the prison setting and period set-dressing – bringing with it parallels to The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. At a push you could even say it was the ‘girl version’ of said films – at any rate, there’s those same themes of finding hope in the darkest of places. A singular driving focus, a yearning for escape, keeping you strong through everything the world chucks at you.
Sucker Punch also plays around a lot with the whole dream-within-a-dream concept; and in a post-Inception world, it more than holds its own. There’s definitely something of the energy, creative visual power and feminine force of stuff like Run Lola Run. The styling is inspired too; that whole 50s with a few modern twists vibe that the Fallout videogames and Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events have done so well.
In terms of the CGI visuals and sense of immersive-ness in the film, it’s easily on a par with, if not better than, the likes of Avatar and Tron Legacy. Sucker Punch was made for venues like the IMAX where you can be truly tipped into the action headfirst; swooping, falling, diving endlessly through a rollercoaster of energy, tension and pure no-holds-barred action. It’s Indiana Jones on over-drive, The Matrix running on atomic power. There really is a little bit of so many films here; their essences distilled down and combined into one. Add in the fantastic soundtrack, which forms a key part of the film, and you have something really special.
For many films, the soundtrack seems almost an afterthought, something pretty to round everything off – but with Sucker Punch, it becomes integral; the life-blood running through the very heart of the movie. All the tracks fit perfectly, from Emily Browning’s atmospheric, gothic cover of the Eurythmics Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) to Emiliana Torrini’s White Rabbit. For me though, the true highlight has to be the version of The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows re-envisioned by Alison Mosshart and Carla Azar. They transform the 60s classic into an epic seven minute long masterpiece, all the psychedelic magic of the original turned up a notch and married with riotous guitar solos and immense beats - Imagine The Chemical Brothers meets Electronic. This track accompanies the afore-mentioned bomb-on-a-train scenes and it really does help transform an already highly impressive action sequence into true audio-visual poetry. It quite literally blew my mind.
Sucker Punch really is a cinematic experience like no other. It’s almost as if by drawing from so many different sources and elements from pop culture, Sucker Punch transcends to another level of film-making. I remain to this day a massive fan of science-fiction and fantasy, and back when I was at school, dreams and fantasies on the scale of Sucker Punch were my escape from the hum-drum tedium of classes. In my mind, I had it all there, all these fantastical ideas circulating around – as well as all the enchanting books, films and video-games that had helped inspire these ideas. Because that’s what science-fiction and fantasy are – a melting pot of ideas constantly feeding into each-other. And just as these ideas were my escape from reality, so to are they Baby Doll’s ideas; her dreams, her visions... her escape from reality.
A lot of people simply won’t ‘get’ Sucker Punch. And it’s a film that needs to be truly understood. Fair enough, it’s not for everyone; and no amount of persuading and convincing will change their minds (something I know only too well, trying to convey the wonders of pop music to indie-lovers). But for me, Sucker Punch is the perfect realisation of everything that is wonderful about the imagination. It's a movie that feels like it could just as easily be a video game or a two hour long music video. It’s the perfect fantasy, the perfect escape. And in a way, isn’t that what cinema is meant to provide?
Oh, and did I mention that the girls are absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous?

Sucker Punch is out in cinemas on April 1st and the soundtrack is available to download from iTunes here.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

These Furrows - Duke

Duke is a powerful Wombats-esque chunk of indie rock from band These Furrows. With Chris Sheldon on mixing duties, there's a real punch to the track, befitting of Sheldon's previous work with Biffy Clyro and Foo Fighters. The biting guitar riffs hit their stride in the thunderous conclusion to the track, the sonic equivalent to a teeming mosh-pit at a gig.

The single's b-side Clarity is worth checking out too, chiefly as it's such a big contrast from the a-side. Gentle strings and piano painting out what could be the soundtrack to any emotional TV drama. You know, the bits where there's a quick-cutting montage of shots between lots of people looking moody just before the closing titles roll. It's really refreshing to see an upcoming rock band showcase such versatility across two tracks like this.

Duke is released on the 23rd May.

These Furrows on Myspace.

It's behind you!

Forget alien planets and deepest, darkest outer space; in Doctor Who, the real great undiscovered land is America. Apart from dabbling visits in the 90s TV movie and 2005's Dalek episode, the show has on the whole shied away from the US. But as this brilliant prequel to the new series shows, all that is about to change...

'Hello, this is the president...' - the sheer gravitas on offer in just those five simple words rachets up the excitement for the new series to whole new levels. As for mysterious voices on tape recorders coming down a phone line, this kind of thing is all very familiar territory for the show. But it's that awful, horrible drop in your stomach as the alien behind the president is revealed that really gets you. My God...

Steven Moffat always was the show's master at sending the chills right to your heart, but this is simply sublime.

Charity shop time machine to the past...

I'm a regular visitor to my two local charity shops, which, rather conveniently, are located about 50 metres apart from each-other on the high-street. I'm not sure what the staff think of me, spending ages carefully checking through every single CD in the rack, but over the past two or three years I've been going to them, I've uncovered some long-since deleted singles and bargain-price albums from my favourite artists - in the process saving me an absolute fortune in having to buy them from Ebay.

My latest purchases were:

Depeche Mode - Ultra
New Order - The Best Of
The Stone Roses - Second Coming
Now That's What I Call Music 37

The first three are all some of my favourite bands of all time. And finding these albums at two quid a go, I just had to have them. Sure, I already have the tracks on my iTunes (and in the case of Ultra, a re-released deluxe edition), but there's something inherently beautiful about purchasing the originals. In their slightly scuffed cases and with the little price-tag sticker on them, they are so much a part of the 90s - the era seems to seep out of the very CDs themselves. Buying them in this way, you are getting more than just the music - here you have a little time-capsule, a link back to the past, a window into the world in which these albums first appeared.

Britney Spears - How I Roll

Of all the tracks on the new Britney album, it's not the best track that has most gripped me, but the gloriously filthy How I Roll. There's something about it that demands I listen to it again and again, to somehow get a grip on what is surely Britney's quirkiest musical moment to date.

Its cheery, hand-claps and music-box melody style reminds me a lot of The Cure's classic Close To Me, but that's as far as the similarities go really. The rest is all about the lyrics - I mean, with lines like 'You can be my fuck tonight...' and 'Go down-town where my posse's at...' we can hardly accuse Britney of being shy at coming forwards. It's this comic, wink-and-a-grin attitude that injects this song with so much fun - it's irresistible, infectious - like those jokes we all know; utter toilet humour on the most basic of levels, but we can't help but chuckle away.

And the realt strength of the track is that, coming from Britney, this song is utterly believable. From anyone else, we'd shake our heads and go 'Huh?!' But from Britney, we can understand it. She's allowed to do this. In the wonderful, magical world of Britney Spears, this kind of track can be pushed, become the highlight on a brilliant album.

Which just leaves us all imagining what kind of dance routine will accompany the song when she comes to tour the album...

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Katelyn Molloy - Travelling Soldier

Travelling Soldier is the first studio demo from Irish singer Katelyn Molloy. Hailing from Galway, Katelyn's voice compliments the gentle, laid back acoustic melodies perfectly; even more impressive when you consider she's only fifteen. Talent clearly runs in the family too - Katelyn is the cousin of Saturdays' superstar Una Healy, and their voices share that same intensely natural sense of emotion and passion. In addition to the brilliant Travelling Soldier, there's also a great live cover version of Dusty Springfield's Son of a Preacher Man on Katelyn's YouTube page here.

Redtrack - Limit To Your Love

If, like the rest of the UK, you feel as if every time you turn on the radio, Limit To Your Love is playing, you may want to check out this nifty little version from the band Redtrack for some more of that lovely chilled vibe. Their take on it sticks pretty close to the James Blake version, but still manages to feel like they've put their own distinctive stamp on it. It's brighter, bigger sounding, more organic than the chilly minimalism of Blake's track. The accompanying black & white video is nice too; despite looking like an advert for a new expensive fragrance at times with its glossy, atmospheric lightning and MacBooks on show.

With a performance at Reading & Leeds' Radio 1 Introducing stage in the bag as well as an appearance on hit teen soap Hollyoaks, Redtrack also released their debut album Whole Town's Heart last Autumn.

Redtrack's version of Limit To Your Love is available to download from iTunes here.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Cheryl Cole - Rare And Unseen - Pretty Little Newsclips

Rare and Unseen – Pretty Little Newsclips is a new unofficial DVD release featuring a selection of clips culled mostly from press events and red carpet interviews and provides a delightfully candid look at the evolution of nation’s sweetheart Cheryl Cole. Cramming a fair amount into just 45 minutes, the highly condensed collage-of-clips format works surprisingly well to give a snapshot of Cheryl as the superstar she has become.
Kicking off with a lengthy interview from all the way back in 2003, we see Girls Aloud on the cusp of releasing Jump from the Love Actually soundtrack. It’s quite charming really to see the girls in their jeans and t-shirts, so far removed from the hyper-styling we always see them in these days. It serves as a reminder of just how far they’ve come from those humble beginnings. Unfortunately, the interview is marred by some rather forceful questions about Cheryl’s conviction regarding the night-club incident and it’s frustrating to see the interview continuously push down this avenue. Thankfully the other girls step in to give Cheryl a helping hand and there’s some touching ‘Chim’ moments as Kimberley sticks up for her best friend. Cheryl is asked of her wishes for the future and she answers simply ‘to be happy.’ It’s a touching moment and a sentiment we can all subscribe to.
Moving swiftly on, the DVD whips through a 2006 Top of the Pops Reloaded interview where we see a ginger Fearne Cotton chatting to a blonde Cheryl. Changing hair-do’s and hair-colour are definitely a recurring theme throughout the DVD. With the overall feel of these largely quite unedited clips being very much random odds and ends that have been uncovered, you never quite know what’s going to crop up next. There’s footage from the 2006 V Festival and various glamorous red carpet affairs including a great shot where Nadine sticks her tongue out at the camera as she walks behind Cheryl and Sarah being interviewed.
As we reach the beginnings of Cheryl’s solo career on X Factor in 2008 there’s a fantastic bit just immediately following Alexandra Burke’s win. It’s here we get some of the best moments of the DVD: ‘I want to duet with Girls Aloud!’ exclaims Alexandra, only for Cheryl to retort with ‘No! You’d upstage us!’. It’s so charming in its sweetness and the clearly happiness on both Cheryl and Alexandra’s faces at having won – neither of them can quite believe it. One of the reporters asks Alex if she’d like Cheryl to be her manager; Alex replies ‘Oh My God! She already is.’ Even better is when a Freudian slip gets the better of Cheryl and she says that she did a ‘victory dance around Simon’s bedroom’ when her and Alex won. I was in stitches.
A smattering of clips from 2009’s Kilimanjaro Climb Comic Relief press shoot, the launch of Cheryl’s waxwork at Madame Tussauds  and the 2010 National Television Awards red carpet finishes things off. Perhaps the most iconic clip has to be the charity fashion show in 2008, for it was here that, in many ways, Cheryl achieved her true transformation into the solo star and national icon she is today. Walking down that catwalk, the cameras flashing and her smile lighting up the room, we fall in love with her again and again.

Kilto Take headline Islington Academy Media Industry Showcase - 27th March

Kilto Take, for me, represent one of the brightest new hopes in rock. Their EP had my enchanted from the first times I heard the likes of the brilliant Retrogress and Ava. With their unique blend of empassioned Muse-like vocals with an energetic backdrop of guitar-work that comes across like a blend of U2 and Editors, they show how great songwriting skill really can elevate you up and beyond the rest of the pack.
Seeing them headline a lengthy media showcase at the Islington Academy, I was struck again by the sheer sense of something distinctly new and exciting happening here – a rock band entering a crowded market that for so long has been lacking in strong, defined melodies. The band blasted through the four tracks from their EP as well as playing two equally impressive new tracks, Inertia and Atonement. With flavours of early New Order thrown into the mix too with their muscular basslines, the band’s set was refined, razor sharp.
Lead singer and guitarist Jon Crosby commands your attention completely and utterly, his guitar playing talent impossible to dismiss. The band conjour up this impenetrable wall of sound, dominating and immensely massive – steely and metallic, it’s a battleship-like wedge of power and energy that sounds absolutely incredible in the small confines of the Islington Academy. The band are made for intimate venues like this, the audience enraptured to the emotion and dynamism of the songs. Here, the band’s superb debut EP comes to life, the story and song-craft of the tracks unfolding like the petals of a flower. And there we have Kilto Take’s beauty; the intricateness of tight, controlled melody juxtaposed with that awe-inspiring scale of their sound.
In terms of the other bands playing on the night, the definite highlight was South London dance outfit STROBE CIRCUS. Blending reggae, dub and drum & bass, they are fronted up by vocalist Rachel Hirons. With her glossy looks and sultry vocals, she could be straight out of a girl-band; but here, she was the definition of fierce, the perfect lead for the band’s intense, atmospheric mix of influences. Hearing dance music done properly live is always impressive, and here the audience were more than up for it. This was music for letting loose, going all out, and truly enjoying yourself.
And as for the best of the rest...
A BLOSSOM FELL, poetically named after the Nat King Cole song, were a quirky, soulful six piece comprised of three guys and three girls. The band were on cheery form, chatting away to the audience and delivering up their Noisettes-esque brand of pretty indie-pop. Their track Margaret Eats A Butterfly in particular is well worth checking out.
UNDERVIEW were also impressive, again, charming the crowd completely. With their laddy humour and rough and ready guitar, they came across like a mix of The Streets and Hard-Fi. Channelling the essence of a punked up The Specials and Madness at moments too, they had the audience eating out of their hand. Check out their track Don’t Know.
THE BREAKDOWN, like Kilto take themselves, were all about strong, powerful guitar – a blend of The Police and The Script at their most angsty, fiery moments. Their EP can be downloaded for free from their website too.

Depeche Mode - Personal Jesus (Alex Metric Remix)

Depeche Mode's most famous hit, Personal Jesus, is one of those defining tracks of rock music - on one level oh-so simple, yet so incredibly effective. That thumping, rhythmic beat and that iconic guitar hook; all topped off with a killer chorus.

So how do you go about remixing such a recognised track? Well Alex Metric's version, one of the various mixes from the band's upcoming 81-11 album, does a pretty good job. It's respectful enough to the original - leaving many of the key elements like the beat and guitar intact - but adds enough contemporary elements to re-invigorate and revitalise this track for a new era. Indeed, in many ways this version serves to remind you just how good the original really is. A synth bassline and all sorts of bleepy electronic loveliness are thrown into the mix, a new sheen of gloss on what is truly one of the greatest songs of all time.

Personal Jesus (Alex Metric Remix) by dmremixes8111

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Britney Spears - Femme Fatale

A new Britney Spears album is always an event. First we had Blackout, the big, triumphant return after Britney’s years of troubles... then there was Circus, accompanied by the dazzling spectacle of the live show. And now, come 2011, we have Femme Fatale. With such a pedigree of top quality pop singles behind her, you’d think perhaps that it’d be quite a challenge for Miss Spears to constantly deliver year after year; but going off the quality of Till The World Ends and Hold It Against Me, there’s no fear of her quality ever becoming stifled.
It is these two tracks that open the album, the very ultimate in music to throw shapes to. It’s a relentless one-two punch, a sonic assault on the senses; as good a reminder to the listener that Britney is well and truly back as that classic ‘It’s Britney, bitch.’ Inside Out continues the theme of fractured, restless sexyness that seems to pervade the album, Britney crying out for someone to ‘give me something to remember’. There’s this yearning lust, buried in the twitching electronics and beats, that is almost siren-like in quality – this slow pulse of sensual fusion. Here, Britney is in full-on sexbot mode and we share a chuckle as she proclaims her lover ‘couldn’t last forever’. Quite literally LOL.
How I Roll serves up more of the same, but is a bit more of an acquired taste, full as it is with a variey of vocodered male vocals, weird popping noises and gasps. On one hand, we can applaud Britney for branching out down this more experimental avenue – it’s something new, exciting, exhilarating. Maybe the snipped-to-pieces sound samples are a metaphor for Britney’s life itself, but ultimately, however cut up the songs might sound individually, the final result is what is probably her most consistent album to date. Femme Fatale feels like a proper body of work with a continuous theme and sound running throughout it. Consistency is a problem that was well documented as a long-standing issue with Britney’s albums, but here, that problem is finally resolved.
‘You can be my fuck tonight...’ she teases on How I Roll. Straight to the point then. I Wanna Go is playful too, full of low-slung basslines and perhaps the best use of whistling in a song in a long time. For me though, the true album highlight and best candidate for third single comes in Drop Dead Beautiful though. The first thing that strikes you here is ‘Oh, it’s Britney doing Gaga’s sound!’, and to a degree it does represent a very post-Gaga Britney sound. It is exactly the kind of funky electro-disco glam that Gaga perfected, but then you remember that as the original Princess of Pop, it’s people like Britney which helped carve open the way for people like Gaga. And Britney is still more than capable of holding her own.
Big Fat Bass is another highlight; featuring Will.I.Am, it dabbles in 90s acid house piano as well as doing pretty much what is says on the tin by giving us lots and lots of ‘big fat bass’. And if you want to take that as a not so subtle euphemism for cock size, well, that’s up to the listener. It’s perhaps the least ‘traditional’ Britney song here; again, more experimental in nature, but never so much so that it becomes alienating. It is important to remember that in many respects, this is Britney’s ‘club record’. She’s always been dancey, but never as openly so as here. Every track on the album is custom-built for the dance-floor – an out and out four to the floor moment.
That is, with the one exception of Criminal. It would be easy to dismiss the track as the album’s token ballad, tacked hastily on the end; but full of folky acoustic guitar, it actually feels surprisingly heartfelt. Sure, it’s no Everytime, but then, what is?
Special mention has to go to the gorgeous packaging of the deluxe edition of the album too; it’s impossibly glossy, featuring fancy gold lettering and a selection of artwork cards too. It also gives you a number of bonus tracks, of which Don’t Keep Me Waiting - a bit of Wake Me Up style synth-laced rock - is by far the best.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Most Incredible Thing - Live at Sadler's Wells

Having the bought the soundtrack CD for The Most Incredible Thing earlier in the week, I was ecstatic to finally attend the show, nipping in just in time to catch it on the final day of its initial run at Sadler’s Wells. With the songs fresh in my mind as well as the praise from heaps of newspaper reviews, I had a fair inkling of what to expect. I had my favourite tracks from the CD, giving the performance a gig-like atmosphere of sorts – I’d be waiting eagerly for those best bits. For me, musically at any rate, the majority of the highlights come in the frenetic pace of the first act. It is here that the scene is set, the characters and central themes introduced and the wonderful synth/orchestra counterpoint established.
In the wondrous expanse of the Sadler’s Wells setting, the Pet Shop Boys’ creations were in their very element; ringing out clearer, louder, fuller. It’s that unmistakable live quality, that essence of now-ness that just can’t be beaten. And then of course there was the dancing and staging itself. These of course are the elements that the CD cannot provide, and they really did breathe new life into the whole experience. Parts of the soundtrack that were previously hard to grasp were finally unlocked; most notably the various ‘clock’ segments. Framed by an awe-inspiring – almost vicious – saw-like construct of paper cogs, the visual aspect of this section held the audience in rapture.
From the Metropolis-esque robotic movements of the workers to the twists and turns of Karl and Leo’s struggle to win the love of the Princess, the cast were brilliant too. They seemed effortlessly in tune with the music, details as small as their facial expressions and costumes sparking a raw energy in the performance. The Most Incredible Thing, a bold claim perhaps? But here - against all the odds - like the inner workings of Leo’s magical clock itself, everything slots together.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Lady Gaga - Born This Way (Country Road Version)

Ever found yourself listening/dancing to Born This Way and wishing you could be sat chilling by a campfire instead, gently strumming along on a beat-up old guitar. The sun is setting behind you and the desert stretches out endlessly on either side - it's just you, there on your own.

Not a scene you can really picture alongside the relentless, overpowering pop-power of Born This Way is it? But Lady Gaga, never one to shy away from the difficult, has done precisely that. Yup, that's right, a country version of Born This Way. And you know what? It actually works pretty damn well.

COMPETITION - Meet Fanfair + win two tickets to London Irish vs. Wasps

You may have seen my post earlier this week about hot new girlband Fanfair - well, we've got a brilliant competition for you where you can win two tickets to go and see London Irish play Wasps at the Madejski Stadium in Reading on the 3rd April. Not only that, but the winner will then get to go and meet Fainfair in the corporate box after the game! You can't say fairer than that!

If you'd like to enter the competition, please send an email to with 'Fainfair Competition' in the subject line.

Good luck!

You can find Fanfair on Twitter here or check out their website.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

The Sound Of Arrows - Nova

Fans of the very best in synth-pop delight - The Sound of Arrows deliver skyrocketing synths on a suitably interstellar scale in brilliant new single Nova. Remixing the likes of Lady Gaga and Alphabeat, the Swedish duo have carved out quite a name for themselves and with tracks as commanding and attention-grabbing as Nova, it's hard not to stop and take heed.

If the likes of Delphic whetted your appetite for immaculately produced slipstreams of electronic magic, then The Sound of Arrows provide the perfect fix. Combining anthemic keyboard hooks that synth-pop legends Erasure and Pet Shop Boys would be proud of with thundering club basslines, Nova is that moment of pure bliss and unadultered joy in the heart of a crowded dancefloor. Achingly beautiful yet enfused with what sounds like the power of a hundred nuclear reactors, the chorus is a tale of longing; a yearning for 'something better'. And have I mentioned that two-some's singer is called Stefan Storm? Quite possibly one of the coolest names in pop, and also somehow brilliantly fitting to the images of lightning-split skies Nova's towering crescendo of synths conjures up.

Breathtaking, exhilarating; if ever a song could capture pure electricity, then Nova would be it.

Nova is released 25th April.

Fixers - Crystals

Following on from a great set at 2010’s T In The Park and February single Iron Deer Dream, Oxford band Fixers are gearing up to release new track Crystals. The band have been described as "A gorgeous summer salad of west coast psychedelia”, which gives as good a representation as any of the band’s sunny cocktail of fizzy, energy-injected guitar pop.
Crystals launches itself off a bouncy, rubbery bassline and trippy 60s influences to surface sounding like the distant cousin to The Phoenix Foundation. It’s a more considered, gentle beast than Iron Deer Dream and has some lovely, delicate keyboard melodies bubbling away in the background. Recently receiving Radio 1 airplay from Huw Stephens and Vic Galloway, the band’s T In The Park performances are available to watch online here.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Doctor Who series six... the wait is nearly over!

Have I mentioned before how fucking excited I am for the new series of Doctor Who? What with Outcasts coming to an end, I've been missing my weekly sci-fi fix, and when it comes to science fiction, Doctor Who is the show to end all shows. It really is the pinnacle of British TV drama and I always await its return every Easter with baited breath.

And this time round it's all about Matt Smith's second year as the Doctor; he excelled in his first series as well as in last week's brilliant Christopher and his Kind. We've all seen the US based trailers and the return of River Song and series six looks set to be potentially the show's biggest yet. Doctor Who goes BIG, as it were. Something this brand new trailer seems to emphasise even more...

Featuring a myserious astronaut cloaked in darkness, this is Doctor Who going in for the all out properly spacey sci-fi (something that at times it has held back from in recent years, instead going for the more 'domestic' focus of 'real life' stories). Consider my appetite well and truly whetted...

Depeche Mode - Remixes 2: 81-11

Now this is what I call a fantastic CD tracklisting:

1. Dream On - Bushwacka Tough Guy Mix Edit (2001)
2. Personal Jesus - The Stargate Mix (2011)
3. Suffer Well - M83 Remix (2006)
4. John The Revelator - UNKLE Reconstruction (2006)
5. In Chains - Tigerskin's No Sleep Remix Edit (2011)
6. Peace - SixToes Remix (2009)
7. Tora! Tora! Tora! - Karlsson And Winnberg (from Miike Snow) Remix
8. Never Let Me Down Again - Eric Prydz Remix (2011)
9. I Want It All - Roland M.Dill Remix (2011)
10. Wrong - Trentemøller Remix (2009)
11. Puppets - Röyksopp Remix (2011)
12. Everything Counts - Oliver Huntemann And Stephan Bodzin Dub
13. A Pain That I'm Used To - Jacques Lu Cont Remix (2005)

Those new Personal Jesus and Never Let Me Down Again mixes in particular really excite me. As two of Depeche's best tracks, I can't wait to hear what contemporary spin has been put on them. Now, you might all cry that Depeche Mode only put out a remix compilation seven years ago, but to be honest, when you've been in the game as long as they have and got such a consistent back catalogue, you're pretty free to do whatever the hell you want. And as a massive Depeche Mode fan, I'll be first in the line to lap this up. Last year's Tour of the Universe was breathtaking, and with every album release Depeche bring out, I can only marvel again and again at the sheer force of power in their music. True icons.

Remixes 2: 81-11 is released 6th June.

INTERVIEW - The Ultra Girls

The Ultra Girls are Lauren, Lucy, Amy and Laura – currently supporting Kylie Minogue on tour, they’re bringing their own unique brand of girl power to the world of pop. Their brilliant debut single Girls Will Be Girls is out in April and it comes with an absolutely brilliant airport-inspired video. I caught up with the girls for a quick chat during a break in their hectic rehearsals for the tour.

Hi girls! So, what have you been up to today?
Lauren: Teen press! Going round chatting to loads of people really.
Lucy: We’ve been eating lots of snacks to keep our energy up. We’re really craving a Nando’s though! Maybe one day if we’re very lucky we could get one of those cards that let you get free Nando’s.
I think there are even some celebs who’ve done promotional stunts to get one of those cards...
Amy: We’d do it! Like eat as much Nando’s as possible in a time limit or something like that.
So, you’re supporting Kylie on the UK leg of her Aphrodite Les Folies tour. That must feel pretty good, right?
Lucy: She’s not had a support act in about seven years so it feels amazing to be going on tour with her.
How long is it until the tour starts now?
Lauren: A week!
Laura: We’ve just been rehearsing loads and it really gives you a sense of what it’s going to be like on the night. The whole thing is just feeling more and more real every day. It’s really starting to sink in.
And with all this rehearsing you’re doing at the moment, do you get a real buzz from it?
Lucy: We love it. It’s mental! The thing with rehearsing is that it makes sure you know exactly what you’re doing, and then you feel alright. It really calms your nerves. Every day we just love coming in and doing it. We can’t wait for everyone else to come see us!
So, do you all have a favourite Kylie song then?
Amy: On A Night Like This!
Lauren: I love Red Blooded Woman!
Lucy: That’s where she’s on the truck isn’t it?
Laura: I like the one where she’s walking around in combat trousers and a vest... Love At First Sight!
Lauren: Oooh, and Get Outta My Way as well!
Amy: What I really love is how on the video for Slow where she has all the people lying on towels around her, when they filmed it they had to glue the towels down because they kept slipping.
The video for your single Girls Will Be Girls is set at an airport... but it wasn’t a real airport that you filmed in though, was it?
Lucy: Nope, it wasn’t actually filmed at one. The one in our video would make a great airport though! It’s so colourful! We were thinking about going to Leeds & Bradford Airport to do it but then we thought let’s just get them to design it all on the computer.
And in the video each of you has a certain job that you’re acting out...
Amy: They were kind of all jobs that we had previously done in real life. Like I actually used to be a flight check-in girl. So it was kind of nice to revisit that ha!
Lucy: I’ve never really been a cleaner though! But I worked part-time at a hair salon and they made me mop the floor.
You nearly hit someone with your mop in the video.
Lucy: That was one of the most dangerous things we did when we were filming!
Laura, you’re a waitress serving out food - did you eat any of it?
Laura: Yeah, I ate some of the mushy peas. They were really cold though, and they weren’t green!
In the video you do a special ‘Trouble with a capital T’ dance move, will we be seeing that on tour?
Amy: We want it to catch on! We’d love for everyone to join in and do the dance move with us at the live shows. There’s going to be lots of fun stuff on tour, loads of energy and running around on stage. It’s all about getting the audience really hyped up.
And do you like to cause a bit of trouble yourselves?
Laura: You should ask our tour manager that question ha!
Lucy: It’s been a troublesome day, you could say.
Amy: We’ve had four interviews today and we’ve ended up talking about bogies... farts... poo?
Lucy: No, we didn’t talk about poo! Well... I guess we have now! Hahaha!
Laura: Hmm, what else? Twiglits!
Lauren: Boys!
Laura: Mashed potato... burps.
Lucy: We’re very boyish. Very vulgar actually. Vulgar with a capital V!
That’s the next single! Ha! Going back to the video, how did it feel filming something like that for the first time?
Amy: It felt really weird when we first walked out on set. We were just a bit like ‘What do we do? What do we do?!’
Lauren: The guys filming it will say stuff like ‘Quiet please, artist on set’ and you’ll be like ‘Oooh! Is that me?!’
Amy: Everyone was so nice to us which made the whole thing go really easily.
People getting you lots of cups of tea and stuff?
Amy: We got our own ha!
Laura: It was a bit weird doing everything against a green-screen, having to use your imagination to think about what’s there.
And was it a long day?
Lauren: Oh yes! It got to like one in the morning and we hit a wall of tiredness ha!
Lauren, you used to be in a band with Tom from The Wanted or something like that?
Lauren: People keep saying to me ‘You were in a band with him?!’, but we weren’t ha! Basically we both worked for the same company and we performed tributes. So I did the Spice Girls and Girls Aloud and he did Take That. So that’s how we know each-other.
So do you have a favourite Girls Aloud song then?
Lauren: The Show! I love that one.
There’s a brilliant video on your official YouTube page where you’re all in a car dancing away to JLS.
Amy: They put that up without telling us! And we were like... What?!
I take it you like a good party then? How’s the nightlife up in Leeds?
Laura: Yeah! It’s really good!
Lucy: We actually haven’t been out in a while, so we’re overdue a good night out ha!
You guys have done a brilliant mash-up cover of P!nk’s Get The Party Started and Blur’s Song 2. How did that come about?
Laura: We were just throwing ideas around really and it kind of grew out of that. It always amazes me too how even little kids know the Blur song.
So are any of you rock chicks at heart then?
Amy: I love 30 Seconds To Mars! Jared Leto is amazing!
Lucy: Ask her to name three 30 Seconds To Mars songs.
Go on Amy, name me some!
Amy: Hurricane!
Yes! With Kanye West!
Amy: Oooh, I didn’t know there was a version with him on it! I’ve got the six minute long album version on my iPod.
And there’s Kings And Queens...
Amy: Yes! *sings* “We were the kiiingssss and quuueeeensss!”
Lucy: Which is the one where he takes his top off in the video? Ha! Amy loves Jared Leto!
How did you come up with the name ‘The Ultra Girls?
Lauren: Well we were ‘Project A’ when we started out on the X Factor, but that was a bit of a work-in-progress; we weren’t really keen on it. So we were just trying to come up with some stuff and ‘Ultra’ really felt like us being determined to succeed and being fun.
Lucy: We’re also girls who are nice!
Lauren: And we can get away with anything!
A lot of bands live together when they’re first starting out, what about you?
Laura: We’ve had to really! We live out of our suitcases. It was a bit different for us as we’d already known each-other for about five years so it kind of cut out that ‘getting to know the other guys in the band’ phase.
You recently went on a tour round various schools across the UK, how was that?
Amy: It was cool! Really fun to do!
Lauren: The kids loved it!
Lucy: They were very responsive and really got what we were about. Just loving pop music and everything.
They don’t hold back do they?
Laura: They were all getting up and dancing! At one school we had this little boy that sung on his own, bless him.
Lauren: He was so good!
If you search on YouTube there’s a Spanish version of your song Girls Will Be Girls called Soy Como Soy.
Laura: We’ve been trying to sing it... Soy Como Soy!
Lauren: We might learn it at some point haha! Do a little rendition.
In their video they dance around with really not that many clothes on...
Lucy: Ours is the PG rated version!
Amy: Something for a wider audience.
And can you tell us anything about your plans for the rest of the year?
Amy: Well, Girls Will Be Girls comes out in April, then we’ll probably release two or three more singles and then the album will hopefully be out around September.
And what can we expect from the album?
Lucy: It’s a real goody bag of stuff! A variety pack of cereal!
Amy: We’ve got a few ballads on there. Then there’s some really powerful stuff, lots of good strong bass. Stuff that gets you in the mood to go out!
Lauren: We’re hoping to do some CD signings and we’ve got a lot of radio tours lined up too.
Amy: We just did a nice intimate acoustic performance for student TV which was really cool.
Lauren: We can’t wait to get out on the road and meet lots of people on our travels!

Interview originally featured on M Is For Music.

Tatiana - Spider Web

Poland’s Tatiana will be looking to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Esmee Denters as she strikes out from her Euro-success to the UK. Single Spider Web is a classy, sparkling bit of Pixie Lott-esque pop and has been given airplay on Graham Norton’s Radio 2 show. It’s the kind of song that if it was an entry on the Eurovision song-contest, it’d come complete with some assortment of amazing costumes and accompanying dance spectacular. And it’d probably win too – and not because it’s cheesy – but because it’s really, really good.
Tatiana’s vocals play to their more delicate side for most of the song, but there’s a real strength hiding in there too with definite echoes of Anastacia. Her album, also titled Spider Web, sees her tackling a mix of Amy Winehouse style soul and Kylie-lite disco-pop. It’s a frisky little blend and those looking to sample something a little different from your Jessie J’s and Adele’s reigning supreme over the UK charts at the moment would do well to check it out.
Spider Web is released on the 18th April.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Jennifer Lopez - On The Floor (feat. Pitbull)

I've lost count of the number of artists who've gone for a hip new dance 'angle' with their new single and thrown in a guest rapper for good measure too. It's easy to be cynical, but you know what, they do it because it works. And J Lo's new single On The Floor is the prime example.

With its staccato beats and rhythmic euro-trance synths, On The Floor is an anthem to the coming summer - the sound of a thousand dancefloors the world over beating as one. And that's the joy of tracks like these, they're just big dollops of ready-for-the-club anthem, precision tweaked to hit all the right buttons. So when you hear Pitbull's guest slot and think 'Isn't this a bit like what he did with Enrique, Alexandra Burke and Nicole Scherzinger', it's because it is like that.

This is the natural successor to all those songs; building on them, growing, snowballing... keeping the endless dance rolling on for another year. J Lo's last album Brave only managed to reach No. 24 in the UK charts, but propelled by On The Floor, her new LP Love? could very easily see itself shooting into the upper echelons of top 10.

I'm properly loving the whole Love? thing too, as if the album is questioning its own existence. It needn't though, as On The Floor is exactly the kind of life-affirming tune we want to hear from J Lo. It's hot, dance-able and without a doubt the future-soundtrack to many a night of shots at the bar. Bring it on.

On The Floor is released 27th March.

Green Day - Awesome As Fuck

My youth belongs to Green Day. Not all of it, but they have always occupied a special place in my heart – snatches of memories and melodies floating up from my subconscious every now and then to remind me how much I used to love them.
Travel back to 2004. The iconic landmark album American Idiot had just came out, and as an angsty young teenager at secondary school, it sounded like the most incredible thing ever created by man. Even now, popping Green Day’s new live LP Awesome As Fuck into the CD player and hearing the first few bars of tracks like Holiday, I still get a shiver down my spine at the sheer power present in these songs.
Green Day have always been the voice of the people, and on Awesome As Fuck, they quite literally are. Live albums can go down one of two routes; either clean and clinical displays of technical prowess – or big snarling things full to the brim of crowd noise and raw emotion. This is most definitely in the latter. Take American Idiot, the opening verse is sung entirely by the audience; and it needs to be said, they are in fine voice.
There is no holding back here, no let-up; just an hour of frenetic, passionate rock. East Jesus Nowhere is a definite highlight, featuring chanting sinaglongs and a chorus that ranks up there with the band’s very best. 21st Century Breakdown might not have reached the immense sales racked up by its predecessor, but then that was to be expected – American Idiot was one of those landmark albums that really are once in a decade moments. With songs from both albums placed together here, they meld together into the triumphant masterpiece the band envisioned. This is their true rock opera, loud, foul-mouthed and let loose before thousands of adoring fans.
It is in the smattering of older tracks however that Awesome As Fuck really comes into its own however. As it draws to an end, we are treated to the bare-bones Good Riddance (Time of your Life), yet it still manages to fill every inch of the venue... and then some. Green Day’s strength is how their songs go beyond the speakers, beyond the CD and strike a chord with each and every one of their listeners. When Billie Joe Armstrong sings, especially on the epic Wake Me Up When September Ends, we feel every word of it.
Whether it be a casually slung expletive (cheekily starred out on the cover of this album), or the vast statement of an incredible back-catalogue this album stands as a testament to, Green Day never fail to make us stop and listen. And judging by the strength of new track Cigarettes and Valentines sandwiched a third into the album, we’ll be stopping and listening to the band for a long time to come. Green Day – Awesome As Fuck? Most definitely.

Argon 40 - Fair Lawn

New York duo Argon 40 sound like something you'd find in a chemistry lab, and in a way, their music sounds very much like the product of a weird and wonderous experiment too. That said, Fair Lawn seems a particularly apt name for their album – neat, cultured and natural, the songs represent a precise achievement of distilled, clinical application to their art. It's a band knowing what they want, and getting it. The twosome - comprised of vocalist Heather Greene and Powerman 5000 member Adam Williams serve up an injection of chilly synthesizers and delicate, whispered vocals. 44.66 Days trembles organically, the instrumental expanses creeping into you like the blurry shapes in the corner of your eye. Meanwhile, the electro stomp of Stay and Bailey, Are You Dead are infused with a cold, robotic quality. It is with When the Words Don’t Come though that we see them delivering their strongest moments.
Here, pop sensibility comes to the fore with a dreamy chorus that harks back to 90s pop Queen Cathy Dennis. It’s half Bjork, half-wintery artistic soundscape. Later in the album come echoes of Portishead, Saint Etienne and even Dido on more acoustically-driven track like When I Fall. Greene’s vocals are soulful and intensely genuine; most importantly, they complement the blissful, chilled out melodies like a second skin.
You get the sense Fair Lawn, as an album, wants to present an open playing field, a blank canvas where music and listener meet in a collaborative effort to conjure up the optimum experience. And in the various floating levels of sonic wizardry on offer, this is largely achieved. Those in search of new experiences, new images of beauty will not leave disappointed with this album and as a collage of so many individual, pretty elements, Argon 40s debut effort excels at what it sets out to do. 

Monday, 21 March 2011

Rebecca Black... No thank-you, please

Rebecca Black does nothing for me. This great article from The Guardian pretty much fills you in on all you need to know about her and takes the right sort of angle too, the actual facts rather than the head-over-heels obsession the rest of the internet seems to have gone for in regards to her.

Ok, fair enough if she floats your boat. We all have to get our laughs somewhere. But for me, Rebecca Black holds no merit. She's a poor singer, the song is awful and most importantly of all, she isn't funny. I see nothing funny in a bad singer. Some might say 'But what about The X Factor?' - but that's different. There, the bad singers are presented as part of a mixed palate; the good with the bad. Also, the bad singers are given their 15 seconds, then swiftly ushered off-stage, whereas Rebecca Black has achieved worldwide fame.

I guess what I find so frustrating is partly that she has achieved fame for being bad. In the ever-competitive music industry, there's incredibly talented singers out there that'd kill for the kind of hyper-fame Rebecca has. Yet, defying logic, it is the bad singer with the awful song that is handed fame on a plate.

Also, it's the 'OMG she's hilarious!' attitude people seem to be approaching her with that annoys me. Really, is a bad singer that funny? Rebecca is hardly the first. It seems part of a cruel world that so much 'comedy' can stem for a young girl who probably doesn't know what the hell is going on. This is comedy of the dumbest kind; there's no wit or clever-ness to it, not even the charm of lad-ish toilet humour. No, this is just cheap laughs at the expense of another person.

The other thing I don't like is that Rebecca gives the ever-present rock music mafia additional ammo to hurl at pop music. They'll say 'Look at this cheap, awful track. It shows the state of music today. Pop sucks!' - But of course, Rebecca isn't pop - Friday is purely a novelty song. I'd even hesitate at calling it 'music'. It cannot be approached seriously. And as all true pop fans know, good pop tracks are worth ten-billion Friday's... any-day of the week.

Ultimately, Rebecca Black just represents another flash-in-the-pan internet trend, but it is frustrating to see something so fundamentally bad getting so many laughs.

Billie Ray Martin - Sweet Suburban Disco (Vince Clark Mix)

When it comes to dance music, Billie Ray Martin really is one of the reigning queens. With a list of hit club tracks as long as your arm to her name as well as DJ slots around the world, she's certainly not lacking in the experience department. What we get with her brilliant new track Sweet Suburban Disco though is the spotlight shining firmly on her voice... and what a voice she has!

As a big Erasure fan, I had to take a listen to Vince Clark's version of the track and the mix represents something far darker than anything Erasure have put out in years - a relentless, threatening bassline throbs away; the perfect counterpoint to Billie's soulful vocals. Her voice is pure class, harking back to the days of the disco greats of the 70s - this track remains utterly modern in its chic-ness however; a stabbing synth break-down four minutes in a technical example in how to engineer a perfect club climax.

That's Sweet Suburban Disco's greatest strength, it's knowing. When it wants to be gentle, subtle and caressing, it can be. But when it wants to turn on the passion and energy, it goes for it full-tilt. This is a club track with real intelligence to it, something befitting individuals who've been in the game as long as Billie and Vince. Moody, sultry and with a brilliant sheen of dancefloor glamour, Sweet Suburban Disco is a definite delight.

Sweet Suburban Disco is released on March 28th.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Introducing... Fanfair

I have to say, I'm intrigued by new girl-band Fanfair. Going to university in Reading, I get a copy of the highly informative Reading Post through my door every Friday and for the past couple of weeks they've been running adverts featuring Fanfair, in association with their partnership with local rugby team London Irish.

What Fanfair represent is a fascinating way of hopefully breaking into the pop scene. By performing at London Irish home games as well as being promoted on the rugby team's website and TV channel, they have instant exposure to thousands of potential fans. Not bad going for Jessica, Roberta, Anara and Aimee; who make up the group.

So, with a ready-made promotional avenue and model-like looks (just check out the photos on their website), what does their music sound like? Their debut track The Vaccine is a throbbing electro number, perfect for the stadium environment they are being launched straight into. Remember Hilary Duff's Depeche Mode-sampling Reach Out? Well Fanfair's The Vaccine is like that but with about ten times more oomph. The whole track is suitably fun and frisky, featuring the rather amazing line 'We're loving daily fixes of your intravenous kisses boy'. There's also a cheery cover of The Boys Are Back In Town on their site too, again, just the sort of thing to get you in the mood for an afternoon of rugby.

There's a nice little interview with the band on Bracknell News and it also serves to remind you that these girls are playing to the likes of 60,000 people per game. If you're looking to get your band out there, then that's certainly one way to do it. Managed by former Syco employee Dan Parker, it sounds like they've got a good pair of hands behind the steering wheel too.

I'm looking forward to hearing more from Fanfair as, let's be honest, the more girl-bands in the world, the better. And as a local, I feel like I owe it to them too.

You can find out more on Fanfair's website here.

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Belong

There are lashings of The Cure’s 80s glory days all over the new album from The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. Entitled Belong, it’s a gloriously poppy piece of guitar driven rock. At its best moments tracks like My Terrible Friend and Heart In Your Heartbreak channel shiny a-Ha-esque synths against a frenetic rhythm section. And with the help of legendary producer Flood stamped all over the album too, you’re assured of quality.
And that’s what you get here. For songs that seem drenched in whimsical, day-dreamy vibes, the album is remarkably consistent. Anne With An E twinkles like the first touches of the sun breaking from the clouds. Across the album, there seems to be constant searching for that ever-unobtainable perfection in life. Caught up in hopes and dreams, we’re led on a merry chase through a vivid and colourful landscape of sound and light. This is music to prick up the ears of the casual listener, to suck them away into the magic of the album too.
There’s a sense of two stories running side by side here too. On the most obvious level, the sound itself. A pocketful of sound snatched up from the late 80s and early 90s, it remains thrillingly retro. But equally, dressed up in the best of modern production values and enthused with the energy and vigour that any indie band worth their salt has these days, the album also slides effortlessly alongside their contemporaries. When you hear the likes of The Vaccines on the radio, any of the tracks from Belong could easily be a long-lost cousin. Never the same, but of the same thread.
There’s also a duality in the album as a whole too – for as consistent as it is, there are no obvious singles here. This is an album that needs to be digested as a whole. And in a way it benefits from that; such is the chilled beauty of some of the tracks, that to sample them only in small doses would be a great shame. This is a work that needs your full attention and time to properly breathe. But don’t mistake that for it being dull or not instant enough. Oh no, as an album, Belong grabs you from the outset, and at its best, it represents a shining beacon of inspiration.
Belong is released on the 28th March.