Saturday, 30 April 2011
Reminiscent of early 90s cut-and-paste dance anthems; collating together a million obscure samples into their vast collage of sonic brilliance, The Go! Team's latest single Apollo Throwdown is a trippy dream-like construction. Dropping us for three minutes into a whirlwind of eclectic sounds and influences, it drips in the inventiveness the group have always been defined by. Timeless and exuberant to the extreme, it's a party song to cheer the soul.
Don't search for lyrics, meaning, or a chorus too deeply here. That's not what Apollo Throwdown is about. Previous single Buy Nothing Day was the 'chorus' song of the album; the traditional burst of all-out pop - but here the emphasis is placed solely on the beats. And what wonderful beats they are. The song seems to blossom and multiply out of that percussive element, fashioning a barrage of sound that batters into you like a truck. And you're picked up and swept along by it into everything else the song has to offer.
What The Go! Team have always done so well is conjuring up that 'feeling' of happiness and the perfect bliss of when you know, deep down in yourself, that you're having a good time. And once again, they're right on the money with Apollo Throwdown.
Apollo Throwdown is available to download from iTunes now.
Pixie Lott, Holly Willoughby, 'Rochelle from The Saturdays'; all get a cheeky name-check in Tinchy's new track Spaceship. Pop culture references are always a winning point with me and in terms of giving Miss Pixie a mention, this ranks up there with Professor Green's Monster - we assume she's still drinking Lotts of milk...
The first single from his fourth album, Spaceship sees a return to the rougher intensity of Tinchy's early material like Stryderman; somewhat refreshing after the glossyness of tracks like Let It Rain. At any rate, the record is a fitting tribute to the rapper's success, with Dappy from N-Dubz adding a frenetic burst of speed to the song with his lightning-quick raps.
The track feels suitably in line with the sci-fi themes its title invokes, robotic march-like beats banging out a mechanistic, club-ready stomp. Packed with the confidence of two artists who know they've made it, the song's hooky chants ripple with natural swagger.
Spaceship is released on 12th June.
After those premature Stone Roses reunion rumours, this briliant new track from dance producers Alex Metric and Steve Angello spotlights Ian Brown for all the right reasons. It's a cracking good dance track, following in the spacey, empowering feel of his My Way album.
The Rocky-montage styled video is fascinating too. Playing out like a little movie, we see a boxer training up to challenge an all conquering boxing robot. Sounds bizarre, but it's a slice of wonderful surrealism. In a cruel/amusing final twist (depending on which way you look at it), the robot comes back to life after finally being defeated and punches the guy's head clean off in a dramatic and immensely gory spray of blood.
As one of rock music's great heroes, it's often easy to remember that Ian Brown, the solo artist, has come up with some stunning pop tracks over the past decade or so. My Star, F.E.A.R., Stellify - all have at their heart an incredible knowledge of a great pop melody and catchy hooks. And open your eyes stands as a firm reminder of this - dressed up in glossy electronic production, it shoots straight for the heart.
Open Your Eyes is released on 8th May.
Thursday, 28 April 2011
You thought you'd heard it all with the amazing Bollywood mix of Lady Gaga's Born This Way, and then last week we had the release of the Femme Fatale Ke$ha and Nicki Minaj loveathon version of Till The World Ends.
But now we have the Bhangra mix of Britney's latest single. Yes. You read that right. It's just SO out there. I'm not sure I like it quite as much as the Gaga mix but if you're a fan of immense synth basslines, this if definitely for you. I really like how it completely mixes up the beat too. Definitely enough to keep us dancing till the world ends at any rate, not that we had grown tired of the original version either.
Hard-Fi, for me, will always represent those angsty teenage years we all go through. Tracks like Cash Machine and Living For The Weekend became anthems for the years of my youth, epic hymns to the hustle and bustle of life in the 21st century. All around them, landfill indie seemed to spring from every corner; but Hard-Fi stood tall and proud alongside a select few others - the premier league of new British rock bands with the quality to the match the hype.
After a lengthy period away following their famous 'NO COVER ART' album, 2011 sees them returning with Good For Nothing; a chunky slice of retro-tinged Brit rock. Full of swagger and charm, there's even a cheeky brass section bit halfway through. If you snipped out the choicest bits from the very best in 'lad-pop' and mixed them all together, then it would probably sound a fair bit like Good For Nothing.
A highly danceable Stone Roses-esque beat backs it all, indeed, it's bands like the Roses and Happy Monday that this track owes its greatest heritage. The guitar licks are rough and ready, laced with an edginess that sees the band embracing a looser sound than the tight, urban precision they excelled out on their debut back in 2005.
This represents an exciting new direction for Hard-Fi, but still packs all the consistency and vigour that made us such big fans of them in the first place. Hard-Fi are back and they're already soundtracking the summer with the fist-pumping tunery that is Good For Nothing. Love it.
Hard Fi - Good For Nothing by Hard Fi
I'm a big New Order fan, so any band who releases something that sounds like New Order, I will usually love. And The Music's final farewell single Ghost Hands has New Order stamped ALL over it, right down to a throbbing Peter Hook-esque bass solo. The band have even been kind enough to provide the song as a free download from their website. And you can't say fairer than that.
Kicking off with a club-ready, mechanical beat and a menacing synth bass, suddenly the track slams into fifth gear; accelerating away on that kind of anthemic riff Bloc Party have made a career out of. Singer Robert Harvey says of the song:
"We love the track and it just seemed a shame to leave it gathering dust for ever. It's good to go out with something positive and new and we think it deserves to see the light of day. Hopefully the fans will agree - again we want to thank everyone who's been with us on this journey and look forward to celebrating an amazing ten years this summer."
Harvey's proud vocals resound in a chorus about 'getting up and making history'. It's the kind of epic stadium packer that many bands would love to have in their discography; it's five and a half minute duration never feeling dull or tired. It's an expansive soundscape, a workshop of vibrant ideas; yet all wrapped round a beating heart of pop sensibility.
So often rock bands these days chuck a tune out there with no hint of a catchy hook or distinctive edge, but The Music come to the table with both in ample measures. Indeed, it feels a shame that the band are bowing out when this track, of such immense quality, when it suggests so much future potential.
Of course, the big news of the day is that the lovely Ellie Goulding is to perform at the Royal Wedding. The actual Royal Wedding. You know, that thing we'll all be watching on TV and which has dominated the news for the last few weeks. Needless to say, this is an absolutely incredible gig for her - highly deserved too.
She's set to release track This Love soon, a song which in fact dates back to the original release of her debut LP in 2009 (before it was re-released and re-packaged and everything). This takes me back to when I was just starting uni - it's a real favourite of mine from the album and a standout at Ellie's live shows too. After the mega-success of her Your Song cover, it's refreshing to see her releasing singles in the vein of the synth-pop that brought her to the public's eyes and ears in the first place.
Recent reports say Ellie is gearing up to release her album in America too, fronting it with an exciting performance on Saturday Night Live which will air on May 7th. Her blog post about touring and all the experiences, emotions and memories it brings with it is really touching too. You get the sense with this single release that things have now come full circle with Ellie, she has become a fully fledged pop-star; a genuine persona in both the British music scene as well as pop-culture as a whole.
On A Mission is fundamentally a pop record at heart, but it's testament to Katy B's talent and ingenuity that her debut LP feels just at home on the dancefloor. It manages to span that treacherous borderline between the two, doing so in a manner that is bursting with inventive melody and songwriting verve.
The real wonder is that while this album already contains four hit singles, it feels like you could easily squeeze another three or four from it - the tracks are of such a good quality. Consistency is the name of the game here and katy knows it - there's an amazing confidence to her that buzzes around, transfusing through into you - you want to leap up and join her on the dancefloor too, 'sinking into the tune' as she sings on Katy On A Mission.
Meanwhile, Witches Brew sees the album at its most poppy with its refrain of 'come with me, I'll make you feel so good'. Empowered and forceful it blasts away any negativity and melancholy, replacing it with that singular bliss that falls over you when you're in that perfect moment of enjoying all the Good Times life has to offer. It is captured again in the relentless, pulsing buzz of Broken Record with its enchanting, hypnotic stream of layered vocals.
Easy Please Me is set to become the next single - and the track reminds me of Kylie Minogue's brief dabble into R&B; Red Blooded Woman. With an insanely catchy hook, it's this track perhaps that catches the power of Katy's vocals at their best; especially in the ad-libs in the last minute of the song.
We feel as if with each song we explore a different night out in Katy's company, a different aspect of her life. And with every chorus, every verse, we feel as if we're sharing in that story, adding it into our own lives and relating to what she tells us. For the duration of the album, she is our trusted confidant, our close friend.
You have to marvel at the sheer intricacy off the beats on offer - synths collide and fizz in the background - a hot bed of almost electric intensity that Katy wraps around her finger and directs at the listener. Her vocals are subtle, hushed, sultry - yet what really makes this album come into its own is the sheer force of personality that comes across, all wrapped up in her incredibly soulful voice.
The album comes to a chilled end with the jazzy keyboard riffs of Hard To Get, the song featuring a touching outro where Katy thanks all the people that helped contribute to the record. It could come across as cheesy, but here you feel Katy's earned the right to indulge - she has just treated us to one hell of an amazing album after all. This is summer music through and through; dripping with the radiance, jabs of brass injecting the track with a real vitality. So often albums fall flat by their end, the final track being a throwaway cut tacked on at the end - but Hard To Get ranks up there with the best of the album, a fitting finale to a stunning record.
On A Mission is available to download from iTunes now.
Wednesday, 27 April 2011
YES! That was my reaction to hearing the title track from The Script's second album has finally been scheduled for a single release. You know the feeling; you get yourself an artist's new album and one song, more than any other, you fall head over heels in love with. And you wait months and months, hoping and praying that it will be released as a single so the general public at large can share in just how utterly amazing that song is. two or three singles might go past; other, lesser choices from the album, but finally, at long last, they put out that song.
I've experienced it before with Kylie's The One and Girls Aloud's Untouchable, and now I get to experience it again with Science & Faith. I still, to this day, remember when I first heard the track and was bowled over by the breathtaking melody of the chorus and the heartfelt anthem to searching for love that this song encompasses. It's a theme the Script have always excelled at, but here, they nail it once again.
With its opening crystalline, ringing, U2-like guitar hook, we quickly descends into reverberating chords, the blank pages for the band to paint the intense emotion of their lyrics upon. Maybe it's just coincidence, or maybe it's fate, but The Script's singles always seem to soundtrack certain vivid moments of my life that I can recall perfectly years later. these lyrics will hold their own meaning for me, as I'm sure they will for each and every listener.
'You won't faith and hope down a telescope, you won't find heart and soul in the stars. You can break everything down to chemicals, but you can't explain a love like ours...'
The real beauty of this song is that it endorses such a romantic view of love. Study the inner workings of attraction and desire all you want; but this scientific approach to something as magical as love with never work. Look at it in the most microscopic level of detail, and you'll still miss the raw power that untamed love can hold.
I think we all have our own ways in which faith, of whatever kind, has worked its way into our lives; and in this tale of love and the mysteries it will forever hold, The Script have come up with something wondrous and truly magical.
A spokesperson from Cher's record label has let on to some rather exciting goings on regarding the singer's debut album. Artists like Rihanna and Lady Gaga have been asked to participate in collaborations, but personally I'm most excited about Cher potentially turning her swag on with Britney Spears.
Reports in The Sun say rapper Busta Rhymes is already set to feature on one of the tracks already.
Cher's album is out on the 12th September and can already be pre-ordered from HMV.
Let's not forget that Cher covered Britney's epic ballad Everytime on the X Factor live shows last year...
When I saw Twenty Twenty supporting The Saturdays on their recent UK tour, one of the first things that struck me was the professionalism and inherent charisma. And it's something they carry onto their debut mini-album Small Talk. Eight tracks long, it's a remarkably consistent record that packs a real sense of youthful energy and passion.
The band might draw obvious comparisons to groups like McFly and Busted, but in realty Twenty Twenty represent a harder, more anthemic sound. It's a diferent creature entirely, going forth into a vastly diferent musical landscape than when these two bands launched themselves last decade.
The album is chock-full of fun, upbeat pop-rock - these are songs ready made for a live audience, full of catchy choruses and singalong chants. This is music for the heart, really rousing stuff - lead single Love To Life being the epitome of this. That innate charm and charisma surfaces again and again, the band really carrying an essence of themselves in these tracks.
Girl Next Door sees them showcasing their more gentle side - the song feels genuinely touching, for the everyman feel of it all, if anything. There's an open-ness to all the songs that invites you in, to share in the emotion of each and every track here. Jamie's Girl resounds to a chorus of 'she turns me on, she really rocks my world.' These are songs about simple youthful passions, but they're messages that speak to us all.
In an age where My Chemical Romance headline the most popular of festivals and dominate the Radio 1 playlist, its testament that a harder brand of rock is what the public want, and Twenty Twenty diffuse that into a teen-friendly outlet. They place a strong pop stamp on the record, tracks like Burning Up glossed over with little touches of synths that give Small Talk a thoroughly modern sheen.
One of the things I like most about Twenty Twenty is that it feels as if they've made this album without boundaries. It's not music tied into any particular time or scene - you feel their music could slide effortlessly into the pop charts of any country in the world. There's a simplicity to the songs, defined by a very clean production sound, taking you back to a more carefree time.
Small Talk is released on the 2nd May and can be pre-ordered from HMV here.
Tuesday, 26 April 2011
With new track Glorious, The Pierces confirm their place as having one of the most brilliant run of singles in recent years. First Love You More, then You'll Be Mine... Glorious makes it a hat-trick. With a chorus of "God bless the world, it's so glorious", the track is suitably uplifting and sisters Allison and Catherine carry the whole thing off with ease.
The duo have a real knack of striking the precise balance between up-tempo toe-tapper and gentle balladic beauty. In the sweeping guitar licks and swelling string sections, we feel as if we are rushing across the plains of America to the girls' homeland. "It got so lonely when you turned away," they sing, but we are only left wondering at how anyone could turn away from a song as lovely and enchanting as this.
The Sun has the exclusive premiere of the track's video and even this seems imbued with this hazy sense of forgotten years that The Pierces have come to capture in their sound. There's pretty retro dresses, filmic sepia-toned touches and shots of packed music halls. In this track comes an intense rush of emotion, as with their previous singles, The Pierces have this mastery of hitting exactly the right spot to send shivers of delight and reverence down you. It's in the beautiful harmonies, it's in the twinkling guitar and percussion. Truly Glorious.
Glorious is released on the 23rd May with their album You & I following a week later.
WOW! It's fair to say that nation's sweetheart Cheryl Cole already has a heap of breathtakingly beautiful photoshoots under her belt, but this new shoot to celebrate the 50th anniversary of L'Oreal's Elnett hairspray (you know, the one you see in every Boots store in a pink bottle with Cheryl's face on it).
This picture really works to all of Cheryl's best assets, her eyes radiate warmth and those chocolaty brown waves of hair frame everything perfectly. Perfection.
"I don't want to be known as the 'Friday' girl," says Rebecca Black in an interview with The AP. I'm afraid it's probably a little late for that, love, but I hear you. Put yourself in her shoes for a moment, and imagine that for the rest of your life you would be known solely for Friday. It's enough to make you nauseous. So as unlikely as it seems, you can kind of emphasise with Rebecca when she says "I want to be a performing artist - that's what I've always wanted to do."
I'm still not really quite sure how best to approach Friday as a song. I really don't like the whole 'It's so crap it's amazing, ha ha ha, I'm being super-ironic and cool' thing. Distinctly, Not Cool. But you know, the more I listened to the song, the more it started to grow on me. Obviously the lyrics still are, and always will be, absolute drivel. But the melody is actually half-decent, a solid bit of pop. Because the way Friday was created, coming from a factory-like production system, they follow pop formulas - they know the chords that work, the notes that sound great.
You have to remember that despite everything else, Rebecca Black remains an extremely young girl who has been thrust extremely prematurely into the harsh intensity of the media and public spotlight. Some of the abuse she's received has without a doubt gone beyond any kind of rationality. Death threats? That's sick. This poor girl was only trying to follow her passion for music. At that age, who is to deny someone from giving anything a try? It's a testament to the Internet age that a something like Friday can instantly explode into world-wide recognition - with an equally expansive host of 'haters' at the ready to target individuals with a stream of bile and insults.
"I want to see everyone's opinion of my actual voice… I don't care if they love it. I don't care if they hate it. Well, I'd like it if they loved it, but I just want to hear their opinion," continues Rebecca in the interview. She seems very eager to invite criticism in; I'd be far more wary if I was her. As the whole Friday saga has already shown, 'hate' is oh so quick to raise its head.
Of course, we could fast-forward five/ten years and see Rebecca as an aspiring American Idol contestant or something like that. And if she actually puts aside the colossal circus that Friday has become, puts her head down and works hard at what she's clearly passionate about; you never know, she might, just might, be half-decent.
How exciting! Looks like everyone's favourite pop princess Kylie Minogue is going to be releasing a special digital EP to commemorate her stunning Aphrodite tour. Available from the 3rd May, the tracklisting is as follows:
1. Can't Get You Out Of My Head (BBC Live Lounge Version)
2. All The Lovers (BBC Live Lounge Verison)
3. Get Outta My Way (BBC Live Lounge Version)
4. Better Than Today (Live In New York October 2009)
5. Confide In Me (Live In New York October 2009)
6. Short film chronicling 'a day in the life' of Kylie on the road
7. 6-page PDF booklet featuring original Dolce & Gabbana tour wardrobe sketches
The Facebook page announcing the release also hints at a forthcoming digital release of extra Put Your Hands Up remixes!
Monday, 25 April 2011
With the absolutely brilliant new Personal Jesus mixes being made available for download on iTunes last week, Depeche Mode now treat us to another of the exciting new versions from their upcoming remix album.
This time, instead of a well known single, they've gone for an album track from their debut LP. It's a good'un though. Puppets has always been a personal favourite of mine and the Royksopp mix plays gently with it, approaching it in a similarly contemporary manner as the Personal Jesus mixes were done in. Things take on a more subtle note here though and the vocals seem every so slightly tweaked, again, to bring them up to date.
In what might possibly be the most protracted period of waiting for confirmation ever, Simon's gone and as good as admitted that Cheryl will be a judge on US X Factor. Even better though, he's said some genuinely touching things about Cheryl, sharing his admiration for the girl we've all fallen in love with.
Speaking about the judging role in an interview with Deadline, he said: "I never think about it as an American or British audience. I genuinely don't. I think that's what's happened on a lot of these shows now is it's almost like you've got to hire well known celebrities to be a judge.
"And with Cheryl, when I hired her initially, I'd only met her literally once when I offered her the job on UK X Factor. I thought she was bright, cute, knew what she was talking about, ambitious..."
Simon continued: "And you meet someone special a few times in your life... and this girl is special. She's just got a great ability to communicate. She's a great judge. She's smart. It's just a hunch."
"If people take to her like the British public did, I think she's going to do really well in America. And Fox was desperate to hire her."
It's really moving to see Simon speak so candidly about Cheryl like this - on the UK live shows we often only got their feisty banter and Simon's usual hard-man act, so moments of open emotion like this are really sweet. He clearly believes a lot in her potential for winning over American audiences in the same way she did over here, and you know what, I think she's more than got it in her to do it. Exciting times indeed!
Fresh from supporting American electro-poppers 3OH!3 on tour, Innerpartysystem have a headline show at XOYO on the 1st June in the works which will see them playing tracks from their new mini album Never Be Content. With the passion and raw energy of gritty, dirty rock at their heart, but twinned with a throbbing dance beat, Innerpartysystem come on like the love-child of Nine Inch Nails and Pendulum.
New single American Trash pulsates with a primal malevolence, the basslines threatening to explode from your speakers. Indeed, the band supported Pendulum on their US tour, delighting audiences across the pond.
For a band named after a term from George Orwell's iconic Nineteen Eighty-Four, they cloak themselves in suitably science-fiction-esque sounds. The bleeps and building waves of synths in the middle-eight carry you away on a sea of bliss as singer Patrick Nissley repeats 'wake up, the dream is over'. And then the thundering chorus collides in again, a mechanistic and unstoppable slab of brute force. It's the kind of track that shakes buildings to their very foundations, that blasts from car stereos on the hottest of summer days.
Innerpartysystem's 2008 self-titled debut was a powerful exercise in rock-dance mastery in its own right - but with American Trash, the band align themselves well and truly with the club, the dancefloors of a nation hanging in suspense, as this track hovers above, ready to beat them into submission. Immensely powerful stuff.
American Trash and Never Be Content are available on iTunes now.
Sunday, 24 April 2011
Britney Spears apparently caused 'complete pandemonium' when she made a surprise visit to a party Nicki Minaj was hosting. Nope, this wasn't some kind of reverse warm-up for the girls' tour later in the year, it was a cool Hollywood bash at nightclub The Factory. Now, in its own right, this would be something pretty special, but we're absolutely loving these quotes from E! Online - they really do just take the whole thing to the next level:
"It was complete pandemonium. Six people were carried out after hyperventilating. They literally fainted when Britney walked onto the stage where Nicki was hanging."
Yes, people actually hyperventilated when Britney came on stage. Well, you would, wouldn't you? Actual Britney Spears. I just have an image of the entire front row at the club suddenly passing out as Brit struts on stage.
The source continued: "People were crowd surfing to get to the stage. Screams were so loud for Nicki and Brit you couldn't hear the music. Bouncers couldn't hold the crowd back."
This sounds like a Fucking Amazing party. Where was our invite?! You know what it's like when you hear, almost Chinese-Whispers style, about a party someone you know has gone to, and wish you had been there. It always sounds better than it probably actually was. But who cares? That instant when your jaw drops as they regale you with their tale of wild antics and the insanely good mix of music on offer, that's what it's all about.
And just for the record; Britney, Nicki, you're welcome round mine anytime you want. Just remember to bring a bottle.
With the first episode of the new series of any show that's as established as Doctor Who, you need to let your audience know that you're well and truly back. And you've got to keep pushing, keep achieving, keep shocking and wowing them and confirming again and again why you're the most amazing show on British TV. And Doctor Who somehow managed to do all that and more with The Impossible Astronaut.
I've only ever felt down once by a Doctor Who series opener and that was Partners in Crime. That episode felt so utterly grounded in the trivial, comedy laced world of the everyday that in so many ways it just fell flat - but The Impossible Astronaut couldn't have been further away from all that. Indeed, at any other time, it might have almost felt like too much. Sweeping us along in a series of riotous twists and turns that delve deep into both the Doctor's present and his future, you're never quite sure what's going to happen next. This is about as far from a 'straight' Doctor Who story as you could get, and coming from the brain of the genius Steven Moffat, it's a prime example of him winning on every level, once again.
This was bold and ambitious, wonderfully powerful - the very essence of what Doctor Who is. To put something this challenging out on TV at 6pm highlights just how adored this show is. What other show would be afforded the luxury to do something like this with its plot? We all saw what happened to Outcasts, but with Doctor Who, we take all this in our stride and follow Matt Smith and Co. along for the ride.
There were so great moments in this episode it's hard to single a handful out, but special mention has to be given to The Silents. It's fair to say they represent the show's best and most scary new monsters since the Weeping Angels (another Moffat creation). In their eerie black suits and almost 'classical' alien appearance, they melded old and new to conjure up something that seemed utterly terrifying. Their power to make all who see them forget about it instatly is a brilliant plot device, but for me, just the look of the things and the way they were framed in the camera won me over.
You'd see them in the distance, the lens blurred - almost as if you were only seeing them out of the corner of your eye. And then when one emerges, threateningly close to Amy in the bathroom, you almost leap back from your TV. Their cold, calculated, silent menace is the kind of stuff Doctor Who has always done at its very best, but injected into these new, terrifying monsters, those chills and thrills feel reinvigorated and new. When The Silent zaps the woman in the bathroom, my mouth fell open in sheer awe - this felt raw, untamed, far more visceral than the show had gone in a long time. As the scraps of the woman's flesh drifted to the floor, you knew in an instant that this series of the show would take things to new heights.
And that it did: The Doctor died. Properly. He actually, fully died. This was the first time we had ever seen the 'if you kill him quickly enough, he won't have time to regenerate' theory put to the test. And boy did it come as a shock. Again, the cinematography was spot on - we saw the Doctor in a tortuously far away long-shot, framed against the beautiful expanse of the lake. And then suddenly the astronaut reaches out and blasts him. And as the energy flowed around his hands and face, despite everything we knew about Matt Smith staying on in the role, I still almost thought for a second that we would see him regenerate. The Doctor couldn't actually die, could he? But then came the next blast and he crumples to the ground. Dead. It was a card we never expect the show to deal, but there we had it. And it was this little plot device, coupled with his casual return in the cafe, that mark this episode out as a true landmark.
When the trailers for this series first started appearing on TV, I talked a little about how Doctor Who going to America was the greatest of all his adventures. Forget time and space, this was the real unexplored land. And with its wide, sweeping vistas of desert and the immaculately recreated Oval Office, it really felt like it. There was an ever-present sense throughout the episode that we were visiting somewhere new and exciting. President Richard Nixon was brilliantly cast, as was Canton Everett Delaware. Their presence reminded me, in a way, of when Captain Jack first appeared back in 2005. It's the American feel; for a show as ingrained in Britishness as Doctor Who is, there's something exciting about hearing American voices in it - (and speaking of America, how brilliant were the Star Trek references in the bathroom scene).
I haven't been River Song's biggest fan, but in this episode, she did finally begin to win me around. Her cockiness seemed toned done as she found herself in unknown territory. She feels her coming death encroaching and it transforms her as a character. The cheekiness is still there, but now it is textured with some genuinely touching and emotional scenes.
And what a cliffhanger! Kicking off the new series with a two-parter was inspired. Cliffhangers are a real forte of Doctor Who, and this episode went into it with all guns blazing - quite literally. I'm already counting down the days till next Saturday...
Saturday, 23 April 2011
After cropping up on Rihanna's S&M remix, it's now Britney's turn to head into the mix as forthcoming tour buddy Nicki Minaj and wild party girl Ke$ha feature on an extended remix of Till The World Ends.
Rather fitting, in a way, seeing as Ke$ha co-wrote the track. Nicki's rap is suitably fierce, as you might imagine, but I'm yet to be completely sold on this version. Take a listen below though and see what you think:
First, to get the obvious out of the way. Vanbot sounds like Robyn. A lot like Robyn. The similarity throws you for six when you first listen to her self titled debut album, but as you let it grow with you, the individuality works itself out and you realise her voice is actually sugared with a distinctiveness of its own. There's definitely more than a little of Kylie's sweetness to it, especially on the ballad Bad Day. An emotional tale of the pains of relationships, lines like 'the worst thing is that you don't miss me' cut straight to the heart. On an album that sounds as metallic and electronic as Vanbot's does, you might think emotions would be hard to portray with such intensity, but songs like Bad Day highlight just how it can be done, and with real power too.
It's hard to decide whether the album as a whole works more on a subtle level or as an all out pop record - it's a quality bands like a-ha made a career out of; radio-friendly pop hooks welded onto records of swirling, smoke-like natural wonder. For certain, on tracks like the single Make Me, Break Me, it errs straight into that all out pop camp. With its big, bold keyboard riffs, bubbling synth line and a chorus that soars the highest heights in terms of pop amazingness, it's a pure winner. The other single, Lost Without You follows in a similar vein, but here shapes itself around a snake-like, hypnotic mystical quality. If any of the tracks were exceptionally Robyn-esque, it's this one.
And when Vanbot wants to be, she can throw you hurtling onto the dancefloor too. Take album opener Ringing; as it plunges into the chorus the beats collide in a spectacular crash of kinetic energy. This is every inch the floorfiller, and there is an inherent groove to every track on the album; it creeps into your limbs, your whole body even - twitching away. And then there's the magestic, epic ambience of Bitter Is The Sweetest Part - this is the moment of the dancefloor caught in a second of endless frozen power.
The album drips in sonic references to New Order too, especially on Tired and Safe By The Numbers, the two tracks coming as a wonderful finale towards the albm's end. Like a lost treasure from New Order's Technique album, Tired sparks and bounds with synthetic energy. Part of the charm of Vanbot is just how many textures she works out from her sound, every track feels embued with some different essence. Icy, crystaline bells ring out in the final minute, an ecstacy of sheer beauty - the culmination of everything this album seeks to create.
Meanwhile, Safe By The Numbers melds that fragility with a surging, wavelike compressed guitar riff that picks you up in its intensity like a surfer caught adrift in a vast expanse of formless water. You're carried higher and higher on a wall of feeling and musical intensity. It's magic caught in a bottle of delicately carved glass, a slash of diamond glitter across a frozen lake. And as the album comes to a close and you rush to play it again, to emmerse yourself in it once more, you realise Vanbot has captured something completely and utterly beautiful here.
Vanbot is available to download on iTunes now.
Friday, 22 April 2011
As anyone who follows me on Twitter will know, I've been waiting to read this book for quite some time. So when it popped through my door at the start of this week, the sun blazing down outside, it seemed the perfect time for a spot of Easter Holiday reading. Becoming Nancy is the debut novel by producer, songwriter, friend to Dannii Minogue and general awesome dude Terry Ronald. Drawing from his own experiences growing up, Ronald's book follows the adventures of fifteen year-old South London boy David Starr as he comes to terms with his own sexuality and the attitudes of others towards him.
Written in a wonderfully colloquial and breezy tone, Becoming Nancy comes across as a brilliant blend of the touching period drama of the BBCs recent adaptation of Toast as well as the cheeky schoolboy humour of The Inbetweeners. Full to the brim with all manner of expletives and wise-cracks, Ronald's wit spills from every page - yes, there's lots of swearing here, but it feels justified, authentic, real. This isn't a children's book, it doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of life. Its appeal is all-encompassing though; teens will love the sheer unadulterated fun and naughtiness of it all while adults will look back on David Starr's world full of nostalgia for their own youth.
Capturing the life of a teenager is something so many authors try and fail to accomplish; that troublesome task of pinning down all those emotions and feelings that rush through your head during those years. But Ronald gets it spot on. Taking you right into Starr's mind, you really care for him as a character - as he is subjected to beatings, hardship and abuse throughout the book, you wish you could step through the page and stand by his side as a friend, an ally.
Indeed, it is the camaraderie between Starr and his friends that forms the backbone of Becoming Nancy. His best friend Frances is feisty, full of attitude; the conscience that keeps Starr on track in his darkest hours. Likewise, his sister Chrissy is wonderfully portrayed - Starr's early sexual encounter with her best mate Abi had me in stitches. Every step of the way, Becoming Nancy is there with a cheeky wink and a plate of innuendo; I genuinely think I found reason to laugh on almost every page of the book. Again, proper humour is something very hard to pin down in a novel, but Becoming Nancy takes it in its stride and delivers every single time.
Growing up in South London myself, the world of the novel felt exceptionally real to me. Part of the charm of the book is that it taps into your own childhood, your own experiences; you begin to question what you might have done in Starr's situation. There's something about those teenage years of your life, something magical and indescribable, and Becoming Nancy offers a brief window back on those hazy, frantic years. With its descriptions of London suburbia, Starr's work at a local bar and trips to Oxford Street and Brighton, the book captures an inherently British slice of life.
And then there's the pop culture references. Like the expletives, these come thick and fast. A minute won't go by without Starr informing you exactly what brand of food he's eating or what TV show he's sat down to watch on the box. For those that were growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, I imagine it will transport you back to those times in a flash, and for those that weren't born then, it presents a vivid look back into the history of this country. With mentions of Thatcherism and the National Front, Becoming Nancy recalls a time defined by changing attitudes and strife - all seen through the eyes of one teenage boy.
It is the mentions of music that possess the most charm however. Like any teenager, Starr has his popstar idols who decorate his bedroom walls and whose records are never off the stereo. In this instance, Blondie and Abba. Starr regales us of his extensive 12" collection, full of rare, limited editions. For any record collector, this will raise a grin of recognition, as it did with me. We understand. And in a delightful, inspired bit of imagery, Starr's dreams are filled with conversations with Debbie Harry and Kate Bush - they act as a voice in his mind, someone to share his troubles with when there is no-one else. It's a sweet, touching moment that throws a beautiful touch of surrealism into the novel.
It sounds a cliche, but Becoming Nancy is most definitely a real page-turner. It's paced brilliantly, whipping along with the excitement of teenage hormones, only ever briefly stopping to catch its breath. Starr's narration feels so authentic, enthused with Ronald's knack for creating genuine characters and giving them a voice. And so, for just over 300 pages, you lose yourself in a snapshot of the past, a picture-postcard of David Starr's youth... and so often, it feels, moments of our own youth too.
Becoming Nancy is available to buy from Amazon now.
Thursday, 21 April 2011
Aside from Metronomy's Joe Mount feeding us tit-bits of info about Nicola's solo project, details regarding her music have been fairly thin on the ground. This tweet by fashion stylist Joel Dash possibly tells us a little more however...
"Previewed Nicola Roberts first solo single 'Dance To The Beat of My Drum' (produced by Diplo & Switch).. New sound = MAEHJOREEE!"
All very exciting. And we love the usage of 'MAJAH', as previously employed on Twitter by Rihanna... (and others)
Diplo and Switch are also behind the new Beyonce track, which was made available on iTunes earlier today.
I've always had a soft spot for Weird Al Yankovic. Ever since I watched the World of Warcraft version of his track Amnish Paradise, I've been a fan of his quirky parodies - aided by Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles' constant playing of them on his breakfast show. It's fair to say Weird Al is a Bit Of A Legend.
And how he's done a parody of Lady Gaga's anthemic Born This Way. Say hello to Perform This Way...
The only trouble is, after recording the song, Al sent it to Gaga's management for approval. By law, he doesn't even have to, he just does so out of sheer nicety. What a gentleman.
The answer he got back? A firm 'no'. They did not approve. So Al blogged about the whole business and uploaded the song on YouTube so that while it might not recieve an official release on his next album, at least it would be heard.
But the best bit about this whole story? Not long after the parody was uploaded on YouTube, Weird Al provided a new update to the whole dizzy chain of events, it went as follows:
"Apparently the fact that she didn’t approve it was news to Lady Gaga herself! Gaga’s manager has now admitted that he never forwarded my parody to Gaga – she had no idea at all. Even though we assumed that Gaga herself was the one making the decision (because, well, that’s what we were TOLD), he apparently made the decision completely on his own."
This really does make me rejoice, but also turns my stomach a little too. It's nice as it means Gaga has been a darling and there's a happy ending to the whole story, but it doesn't quite erase the highly unsavoury taste in my mouth resulting from her manager saying 'no' to the track withot consulting Gaga. Very shady!
Going back to the parody itself, with the YouTube video's Doctor Who-title-sequence-esque pulsating colours and Al's inspired and immensely funny lyrics stamped over the top, karoake machine style; the whole thing is as suitably 'weird' as his name suggests. In other words, brilliant.
The production is rather endearing too, all euro-techno synths and bleepy effects. As always with Al's parodies, the lyrics lie at the heart of the hilarity - My personal favourite from Perform This Way? 'I strap prime rib to my feet / cover myself with raw meat.'
When it comes to glamorous celebs working a lovely, cheery smile, Girls Aloud's Kimberley Walsh ranks very highly indeed. She works that beautiful, friendly girl-next-door look perfectly and it suits her well on this new poster of her as 'Prissy Polly'; the role she plays in the new Horrid Henry movie.
I'm sure most people remember the Horrid Henry books from their childhood; even if you didn't actually read them, you couldn't not see them - they were everywhere! Shops, libraries, doctor's waiting rooms... they'd be there!
After all of Girls Aloud dabbled in the world of movies with the gloriously British St. Trinians, something like Horrid Henry seems the perfect choice for Kimberley to take on, and just going by this poster, she seems to be filling the role very nicely indeed.
Wednesday, 20 April 2011
When it comes to making a big statement, would it be possible to top Lady Gaga in a week where she appears on the cover of NME magazine in a see-through cat-suit with zips covering her naughty bits?
While perhaps not hitting quite those levels of shock-o-rama, the new Arctic Monkeys album is sure to court controversy - nor because of what's on it (as their debut did because of it featured a man smoking), but because of what's not on it.
It's completely blank. Apart from the rather modestly printed album title, that is.
It reminds me almost of one of those taster-strips you get in DIY stores to help you choose a paint colour for your room. It's that ever so off-white creamy tone.
Of course, the Arctic Monkeys aren't the first band to do something like this. Anyone remember Hard-Fi's 2007 album Once Upon A Time In The West? They went more for the road-sign feel, and personally I prefer their take on 'No Cover Art.' - at least they're big and BOLD about it in this case. And there's proper colour too! That lovely vibrant yellow!
(Speaking of Hard-Fi, they're playing at the Hoxton Bar & Grill on the 12th May - a 'warm up gig' for their forthcoming third album, they describe it as)
Suck It And See is released on June 6th and you can pre-order it here.
Yup, it's time for the latest round of Girls Aloud news.
Reports today suggest that Cheryl wants to work with Rihanna, Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj on her next album. Let's face it, who wouldn't want to work with a trio of amazingness like those lovely ladies! These high profile collabs are apparently to help launch Cheryl in the US.
An insider revealed: "Cheryl's management want her to become the next big popstar in America and are working on securing some A-list names for the album. A Rihanna duet is a certainty and Will.I.Am is trying to convince Minaj to work on the LP too. Katy Perry has also been in talks with Cheryl about a duet, as she is a big fan."
We like to imagine will.i.am as one of those super-cool guys who's always on his phone lining up various business deals and meetings, and in this dream scenario, hooking Chezza up with the best in US female pop. There's even reports that Cheryl wants to work with Britney and Beyonce too.
Turning our attention back to Girls Aloud as a whole... this afternoon, the awesome-threesome of welovepop, supersonicpr and polydorrecords all tweeted this message:
"Time to set the record straight after another ridiculous story. Girls Aloud will always be, Sarah, Nadine, Kimberley, Cheryl and Nicola."
Which throws cold water all over Heat's super-silly story about them wanting to continue as a four-piece.
Hearing the news that Rihanna and Christina Aguilera's performances from last year's X Factor had been cleared by Ofcom, I breathed an immense sigh of relief. After over 2800 complaints that their performances had apparently been 'too sexy', Ofcom had launched an investigation into the whole matter.
I still find it utterly bewildering that anyone could take such offence at a pop performance. Sure Rihanna and Christina might not wear many clothes and pull out some sexy dance moves, but is this kind of thing any more sexually explicit than some of the stuff in TV dramas going out in similar time-slots? I'm sure even soaps like Eastenders or Hollyoaks have featured stuff just as racy in the past.
I've expressed my views in the past at my utter dismay at the pitiful complaints culture that currently seems to be sweeping the UK, where over-opinionated viewers see fit to make knee-jerk complaints to try and excersize some small amount of power that is clearly lacking in their own lives. It's all a bit silly isn't it? I dread to think how these people deal with day to day life if they can't even cope with a bit of sexy dancing on X Factor!
The funniest/most shocking thing - depending on how you look at it - is that about 2000 of the complaints only came after the Daily Mail had run an article on the performances including zoomed-in pictures focusing in close on the female singers. Make of that what you will...
On a brighter note, let's enjoy Rihanna's 'sexy' performance again:
Starlings are one of my favourite new bands at the moment and ever since I covered their brilliant debut single Weight In Gold back in Novemeber last year I've been itching to hear more from them. Blasting out of Sheffield like the Human League born-again, they're now back with new track Sirens, and its every bit as epic and punchy as their previous single.
And speaking of the Human League, there's even some Don't You Want Me-esque synths thrown into the mix here plus some almost gothic sounding choral bits - all very atmospheric. And all this driven by a pulsing, dirty bassline that wouldn't sound out of place on Lady Gaga's new single.
Imagine Duran Duran's Girls on Film transposed into the 21st century, given a new lick of paint and with a brand new super-charged engine slapped on. This is exactly the kind of music the British indie scene should be making right now; exciting, innovative catchy records that shine with the passion and energy of the band behind them. Sirens makes it two stellar records in a row for Starlings and personally, I can't wait to hear the album. Keep up the good work lads.
Sirens is released on the 23rd May.
Starlings - Sirens by Sainted PR
This week sees the amazing Ultra Girls following up their stunning support slot for Kylie Minogue with the release of their infectious debut single Girls Will Be Girls. Seeing it in a live setting at London's O2 Arena, it sounded even more epic - the girls also took the opportunity to showcase some of their other tracks including Birds and the Bees, Gonna Stay, IOU for Love as well as their inspired Blur/P!nk UltraMashUp.
Next week the girls will be heading up north to Preston's 'Lava Ignite' and Newcastle's 'Liquid' for a couple of under-18s club shows.
They also feature in today's Daily Star Playlist feature where they talk about their backstage antics while on tour with Kylie.
Laura reveals: "It could have been embarrassing if Kylie had caught us listening to her tunes so we had booty-shaking competitions to Nicki Minaj. We really enjoyed Kylie’s show."
The Ultra Girls debut single Girls Will Be Girls is out to download on iTunes now.
If the likes of Metronomy's English Riviera album has got you hooked on shimmery, beautiful electronica and you fancy some more to ease yourself into the summer, Fenech Soler's new single Stop & Stare will be perfect for you.
You may have heard one of the many brilliant mixes they've produced for other artists in recent years, one of my favourites is their take on Andy Bell's Running Out.
As for Stop & Stare itself, it's a glossy concoction of flickering synths and twinkling 80s keyboard melodies that blaze away like starlight. It also packs one hell of a chorus, a rarity perhaps in their genre. The formula clearly seems to be working, with Stop & Stare being B-listed on Radio 1.
Stop & Stare is available to download on iTunes now.
You can get the great, stripped back 'White Version' from their website too.
I Am The Resurrection. In my mind, this song will always stand as the pinacle of everything the Stone Roses were about. In its full eight minute long version, it represents a towering accomplishment of musicality and skill, blending influences and sounds to create a riotious stormer of a track that still sounds just as fresh and innovative now as it did twenty years ago.
On one hand you have the first part of the song, the part you still hear played now and again on the radio - this in its own right is a cracking bit of Brit-pop. The hooks are all there, added to a stomping beat - the very ultimate in toe-tapping bliss from the heart of Madchester.
And then there is the immense instrumental outro. As the first part ends, slamming into that infectious bassline, you're reminded that the Stone Roses were as much a band for the dancefloor as they were for the sweaty indie venues and crowded fields of stoned revelers. Which draws me on to the 'Extended 16:9 Ratio Club Mix' which originally appeared as the A-side of the single's 12" release.
You need only look at the current midweek Number One - Wretch 32's Unorthodox - to see the Stone Roses' dance heritage in full health, the tune sampling as it does the band's iconic Fools Gold riff. But listening to the 12" extended mix of I Am The Resurrection, the dance vibes are just as strong here too. The beat gets a few tweaks, the bass is brought forward in the mix. Whereas the original was certainly danceable, that side of affairs felt secondary to the big, beating rock heart of the track; the mix places that emphasis firmly back on the other foot. 1992 or 2011, this remains a bloody good track.
Tuesday, 19 April 2011
Kites represent something rather exciting. Basking in the wake of a considerable wealth of press coverage from the likes of The Sunday Mirror and Time Out as well as having a support slot lined up with legend Peter Hook at Scala, the future looks bright for them. They even have a cool, flashy website.
Think of them as a mix of early New Order and OMD, especially on their track You Are (Dead To Me). With distinctive vocals, swirling synth hooks and lyrics full of wit, their songs chug along as if carefully cut and pasted together in a dimly lit factory; they're full of vigor and the rough-worn edges of labour. There's a real sense of artisanship to them.
Meanwhile, Take The Reins centres around bleepy electronics and low rumbling strings. As the guitar comes in a wintery beauty sweeps over the track, twinkling like stars in the dead of night. Here we have a sensitive ballad of the kind that so many bands try to pen, only to fail. This however sounds genuine and oh so fragile, a delicate sculpture of icy wonder.
It is on The Ddisappearance Of Becky Sharpe that they are at their strongest though, coming across half White Lies and half trippy acid house synths that could have comes straight out of The Beloved's Sweet Harmony. It's a meeting of three decades of British music in one glorious melting pot. As the synths swell up in the chorus and then again in the last minute of the song you get the sense of crashing waves of sound, raw and untamed - and that's the real strength of Kites; they're unpredictable, loose, innovative.
Just when you think you've got a handle on their tracks, some new element works its way in to the mix. In this respect, it could seem easy for them to lose their way, for everything to fall apart into its constituent elements. But it never does, the tracks stand tall and proud, gleaming constructs of skillful songwriting.
The Kites' previous single The Seamstress is also available to download from iTunes.
Visit The Kites' website at http://www.wearekites.com/
KITES - EP - KIT0003 by Kites
Recently it seems to be the ladies doing all the dominating of the charts these days, the male singer-songwriters taking a bit of a backstep compared to three or four years ago. But perhaps Kevin Rutkiewicz can even up the scales again with his new single Time On Tick. Hailing from Glasgow, Kevin's Scottish lilt and gentle acoustic melodies will draw obvious comparisons with Paolo Nutini, and it's a fair shout. To a degree anyway, since Paolo's fairly straight debut These Streets, he went on to delve down a fair more quirky, experimental avenue on his second LP Sunny Side Up.
Kevin's single is firmly in the camp of the former album; a big, strong, easy-on-the-ears slice of gentle acoustic balladry that'd give James Morrison a run for his money. The song slowly builds up to an emotional crescendo, piano chords driving away with the guitar to provide a hefty foundation for Kevin's soulful vocals. Having played professional football for twelve years for Aberdeen and Dunfermline, he knows a thing or two about dedication and application of talent - and now having turned those skills to music, Time On Tick represents a highly pleasing listen.
Time On Tick is released on the 6th June.
Lady Gaga on the cover of NME. Not the most obvious star for them to go with, perhaps, but with a photoshoot like this, it'll be certain to stand out on the magazine shelves. Now, I'm not usually the biggest fan of Lady Gaga's outfits, but some are simply so bonkers they transcend into amazingness. Take meat dress or Kermit suit; completely and utterly impractical, but they get the nation talking. And the see-through zipped catsuit she dons for the NME cover looks set to do the same.
Definitely not something you'd want to wear with the weather as hot as it is at the moment, but Gaga certainly seems to be 'enjoying' herself in regards to the artfully placed zips...
In the accompanying interview, Lady Gaga targets those calling her manufactured, saying they can 'fuck off'. Quite right too. In the comments section below NME's online feature about the cover, as you might expect, there's already a heap of knee-jerk criticism of her comments from die-hard 'indie' boys. It's a rather dispiriting experience glancing through their closed-minded views on pop but it highlights yet again how controversial Lady Gaga is as a popular figure. Major props to NME for putting her on the cover anyway, it's a brilliant photoshoot and a fitting tribute to one of the most iconic stars of our generation.
Yesterday I went along to the filming of the latest episode of T4's music show KOKO Pop at, yup, KOKO, in Camden. After a rather extended period of queuing (not all bad, I caught quite a tan in the sunny weather) we got let inside to act as the studio crowd. It's fair to say everyone was rather excitable, which I imagine is exactly what the show's producers want. To be fair, it was a pretty amazing line-up, so a win-win situation for everyone really.
Heading things up was Sophie Ellis-Bextor, who blew me away with how stunning she looked. I've always thought Sophie was pretty, but just WOW, she was smoking today! Freemasons collab Heartbreak (Make Me A Dancer) got the crowd suitably warmed up and it was great to hear beautiful new single Starlight too. Next up was Clare Maguire, who sung Shield And Sword, one of the highlights from her rather good debut album.
For me it was all about Parade though, this was why I'd come, after all. Having seen them live quite a few times now, I had a fair idea of what to expect, but in the intimate grandeur of KOKO, the songs really came alive. The sound quality was incredible, showcasing the band's harmonies to their very best. It's so easy for people to dismiss girlbands as being average singers, but what you get with Parade is five extremely talented girls who easily possess the considerable vocal talents to match the quality of their songs.
Fan favourite Perfume was first up, followed by Top Ten single Louder, both accompanied by some seriously hot dance moves. Again, the girls excel in this department - every move is slick and rehearsed, but enlivened with the innate sense of fun and sheer force of personality that the band bring. Parade's performances are all about having fun and enjoying yourself. They definitely won over a few new fans too, the girl stood behind me in the audience couldn't keep quiet, so full of praise was she for the band.
Then out came the piano for one of my personal favourites Rokstar - if you haven't already downloaded this from Parade's website then you really need to right now as it's an utterly beautiful track that, heard in a live setting like this, sends shivers down your spine. Completely enchanting. We were all in for a treat next as the girls gave us an exclusive premiere of new song Ticking On It. Again featuring Bianca playing piano, it was a fun and frisky up-tempo number infused with the spirit of the band - girl power at its very best.
Me with Parade's Bianca and Lauren after the gig:
The complete line-up/setlist was as follows:
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Heartbreak (Make Me A Dancer), Starlight
Clare Maguire: Shield And Sword
Parade: Perfume, Louder, Rokstar, Ticking On It