Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Parade - Perfume (Wideboys Remix)

Currently compiling a hot summer party playlist? Well, you need to get the Wideboys remix of Parade's new single Perfume on there if you know what's good for you.

Wideboys have always been one of my favourite remixers and have worked with pretty much *everyone* in the pop game, and they've come up trumps again with this frisky re-work of the girls' track.

Even better, unless I'm very much mistaken, there's a whole host of new shots and angles in the tweaked video that accompanies the remix - so you're getting even more Parade. Which is a very good thing indeed.

Perfume is released on the 19th June and is available to pre-order here.

(Cover Art) Coldplay - Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall

Let's be honest, it's about time we had a proper new Coldplay song. Their Viva La Vida album was so wonderfully brilliant, and now, three years on from then (gosh, where has the time gone!), that Coldplay shaped hole in our heart is starting to really miss them.

And so, they deliver the goods - in the form of a brand new song called Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall. Very poetic.

The song will be streamed from the band's website on Friday and go on sale in the UK on Sunday, but until then, we have the lyrics to look at as well as the glorious cover art.

Talk about colourful! We love it.

The Pierces - You & I

God bless The Pierces - for delivering one of the best albums of 2011. The feeling with You & I - their fourth record to date - is that as an album, it represents an intense personal relationship between us - the listener - and the two Pierce sisters; Allison and Catherine. You need only look at the tender beauty of tracks like The Good Samaritan to see that truth laid bare in their music.

You'll Be Mine, Love You More, Glorious - placed together in tandem here, we see the record's singles in a new light, and as the tour de force they really are. One of the reasons I've been so forward in championing The Pierces over the last year is that they deliver time and time again - and these three singles are proof of that.

You & I is by far one of the most consistent albums this year and in its fusing of indelible pop hooks, dreamy folk charm and the sheer personality of the sisters, it delivers a breathtaking winning streak from end to start.

Much has been made of the band's involvement with Guy Berryman of Coldplay, and his involvement is telling in the band's sound. In many ways, You & I is like a female companion piece to the very male majesty of Coldplay's Viva La Vida album - hints and essences of the 'Coldplay sound' glimmer everywhere across You & I; the finest of embellishments to an already highly accomplished record.

The sounds of 70s easy listening are back in a big way right now; just look at the success of Plan B and Adele. And if anything, The Pierces do it even better than these two, for their sound isn't attached to any contemporary music trend - instead, they are timeless; the album portraying a kind of alabaster beauty which never dulls or ages.

As such, You & I stands as a stellar collection of artistry. Functioning both as an ensemble of powerfully individual tracks - any of which could be a single - but also like a real 'album' of old. This is the story of The Pierces and it is writ for all to see in the tracks of this album.

If I had to pick a highlight, it'd be the epic Space & Time, with its simply divine chorus. The song just seems to open up in front of you like some kind of gateway to another dimension, the girls voices truly at their most angelic best here. We Are Stars, which previously served as a b-side to Love You More, is another standout.

You & I is available to buy from Amazon now.

Architects - Heartburn

When it comes to songs about relationships, you're spoilt for choice really. But somehow, as the Architects' Sam Carter sings his heartfelt plea of 'I'll be the one to make you smile again', we feel like there's room for just this one more.

The third single from the band's The Here And Now album, Heartburn merits greatly from pursuing a more melodic angle than many of the other tracks from the LP. This one's all about the big choruses, that rush of emotion that swells through your body like a thing alive.

With refrains of 'lose all your inhibitions', Heartburn feels like the band letting their guard down, becoming softer, more aware of themselves. Bookended by lush swathes of acoustic guitar, the real meat of the choruses lies between.

This contrast of fast and slow, smooth and rough; it feels only befitting of a track singing the trials and tribulations of a relationship. But what makes it work so well is that common factor between the opposed halves, that shared interest. And so, like the perfect couple, Heartburn comes together in wonderful union.

Heartburn is available to download from Amazon now - the digital EP includes an exclusive acoustic version of the track.

Shunda K - I'm Da Best

Utterly relentless, I'm Da Best is a track that carries the confidence of its title. Remarkably minimal - with just a smattering of crashing synthetic stabs, hitting like a hammer on sheet metal, your attention is freed up to focus on what's really important here; the beats, and Shunda's vocal.

Shunda K - the leader of Domino Records signed hip-hop group Yo! Majesty, 2011 sees her going it solo. And with NME placing her on their 'cool list' plus electro star Peaches collaborating with Shunda on their track Billionaire, things are looking pretty rosy right now.

And that's what comes across in I'm Da Best, the first single from Shunda's solo record The Most Wanted. There's an undeniable positivity to the track, reinforced by its anti-bullying video. In it, we see Shunda dressed up as a Superwoman, there to save the day, to stop hard-ship and oppression - and that's what this track feels like, something to rally to in the hardest of times, an anthem that whatever anyone else might say, you can always find comfort and inner strength in your own personal best.

The Most Wanted album, featuring I'm Da Best, is available to buy from Amazon now.

Monday, 30 May 2011

(Video) Six D - Best Damn Night

Last week we featured Six D's brilliant 2 Seconds on the blog, and today we have the flip side - Best Damn Night. Those that saw the group on The Saturdays tour will already be familiar with the hyper-catchy dance track that shows the band off to their glorious pop best.

One thing I really love about the video is that the camera visibly shakes with every throb of that relentless bassline - everything about this song feels propelled by its immense momentum, sweeping you away in an onslaught of youthful energy.

As it is, 2 Seconds and Best Damn Night serve to highlight the two very different but equally effective sides of Six D's sound - and if one of them doesn't hook you, the other sure as hell will.

Best Damn Night is released on the 24th July.

New releases round-up - 30th May 2011

Depeche Mode - Personal Jesus

A veritable treasure trove of remixes of one of the band's best tracks, they come from some unexpected sources including Eric 'Call On Me' Prydz and Stargate (them that did Rihanna's S&M). Quality stuff. Expect more electronic loveliness on the band's remix album out on June 6th.

Linkin Park - Iridescent

The third Linkin Park single to feature on the soundtrack of a Transformers movie, Iridescent appears here in a slightly reworked form from its original album version. Nevertheless, it still represents Linkin Park at their most epic and emotional - a real tear-jerking rock ballad if ever there was one.

The Pierces - You & I

Last week we featured the girls' single Glorious as one of our picks of the week, and now we have the album! They are just *that* good. Blissed-out 70s charm and wonderful vocal harmonies, I expect this will swiftly become the soundtrack to many people's summers.

The Script - Science & Faith

The fourth single from the band's second album, it isn't likely this track will set the charts alight, but I'm taking this opportunity to give it all the attention it deserves as it's by far the best song on the record and I've been waiting literally ages for them to release it as a single.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Don Broco - Beautiful Morning

Coming to the end of their May tour across the UK, Don Broco can look back with a sense of satisfaction - their debut album Big Fat Smile being received with rave reviews from both Kerrang and Rock Sound.

And when it comes to positive feelings, their single Beautiful Morning is right up their with the best of them, channelling impassioned choruses of 'Up, Up Away!' delivered with particular poignancy by lead singer Rob Damiani.

For many post-hardcore bands, it's so easy for them to become lost in attempts to demonstrate what they can do with their guitars, how 'big' they can make their sound, this constant drive to prove their musicianship - so much so that any essence of an actual, solid song seems to become secondary.

It's extremely refreshing then to see Don Broco actually delivering a track which stands up on its roundedness - it has proper verses, a good chorus, and guitar hooks that are precise rather than inelegant bludgeons to the senses. Beautiful indeed...

Martin Solveig feat. Kele - Ready 2 Go

For all of Kele Okereke's recent dabblings into the world of dance - both on his debut solo album and the more recent Bloc Party records - seeing him collaborate with Martin Solveig is not something I expected. The results are rather spectacular though.

Ready 2 Go is a fist-pumping bit of Daft Punk styled electro-house; a fizzy vocodered backbeat underpinning a classic Kele vocal. More poppy than we'd normally expect from the indie supremo, it's rather charming to see him deliver something that at times sounds like it's going to meld seamlessly into David Guetta and Kelly Rowland's When Love Takes Over.

You only need to look at the super-success of Solveig's previous single Hello to see how attuned the producer is to what works in a hit club track (as well as his skill at picking collaborators to vocal his tracks).

At this time of year, all the big dance hits of the summer are coming out in force and Ready 2 Go is easily up there with the best of them.

Ready 2 Go is released on the 26th June.

Rihanna on the cover of Cosmo mag

Sometimes you don't need words. Not even because the picture tells it all, but because you can't tear your eyes away from that picture to describe it. But suffice to say, Rihanna is one of the hottest popstars around at the moment and her new Cosmopolitan magazine cover is absolutely jaw-dropping stuff. Just WOW!

We shared a lot of love over the video for her brilliant new single California King Bed, and this cover just backs up how on-form Rihanna is at the moment. Keep up the good work girl!

Sound&Shape - Now Comes The Mystery EP

Nashville rockers Sound&Shape are certainly not a band to be confined by the past. 'We hope to help Nashville break free of the country music stereotype' they say, bold and confident in themselves. And that assured sense of who they are is to be found all over their latest EP Now Comes The Mystery.

The key word here is maturity, lead track Tangled In The Mane tipping between the raw energy of its choruses to the spectral atmosphere of its more subtle verses - in this contrast there's the sense of scale that defines the band. And maturity combined with scale makes for a powerful concoction, one that's plain for any to see in this track's bassline; a power-packing beast that the likes of Muse would be proud to call their own.

Indeed, the classic and prog influences that this scale lends itself to are stamped all over the EP, in particular the standout track Our Hollow Reasons. Stripped to a backbone of acoustic guitar, the song becomes a kind of 21st century Wish You Were Here; an enchanting and surprisingly moving entity.

You often hear talk of 'distinctive voices', those select few singers who even casual listeners can instantly name and associate with an era. Normally such labels are applied only to eighties legends or eccentric individualists, but Sound&Shape's Ryan Caudle is in touching distance of such a label. And it's befitting of the maturity of the EP as a whole that so often his vocals find centre stage, becoming the focal point of the track; evolving beyond merely the 'vocal', and into an integral element of the song.

What stays with you through all four songs of the EP is the quality of sound on offer, testament to Grammy winning Casey Wood on production duties. Our Hollow Reasons in particular displays a particular richness in its closing bars, a beautiful layering of guitar lines that wash out of the speakers like gently lapping waves.

The Sacred and the Profane seems the most traditional track here; caught in a kind of limbo between Queens of the Stone Age and Foo Fighters - that intense, frantic rock that speaks of endless American roads and the sun beating down on the deserts that surround them. It's thick, gritty and relentless - a real onslaught of percussion that hammers its way into your consciousness. It's short too, at under three minutes, but frankly, that's all it needs - Sound&Shape are band that don't need to say a lot to let you know who they are and exactly what they are about.

An impressively well-rounded EP and one that really shows the band's talent to its full.

Now Comes The Mystery is released on the 12th July.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Auction - Statues

In a post-Bloc Party world, the gauntlet for up and coming indie bands to create something of not only real innovation but also something people find genuinely enjoyable and danceable too. Because everyone loves a good dance.

Croydon band Auction may have landed on the secret. Simplicity. It seems almost counter to the matter... in an ever more competitive world, surely you'd want to throw as much musicality as possible into your big track to win the public over? The only trouble is that seemingly everyone else has thought of doing that, so to go against the grain and deliver something relatively simple, well, then it becomes you who stand out.

And this is what Auction land on with their delightfully instant single Statues. Equipped with the little synth touches that same for the par with bands these days, what really marks Statues out is how readily it leaps onto the dancefloor with its frantic frenzy of percussion and wall-of-sound guitars.

While other bands might seek to impress by smothering you in a web of increasingly obscure and intricate influences, Auction simply place their track and deliver it home with a well placed strike of the hammer.

There's also frontman Joseph Sigee's vocals, surprisingly soulful and possessed of a sweetness not often found amongst their contemporaries. And it's this twinned with the wonderful, almost oriental sounding instrumental middle-eight that wins me over to Statues - there's a real sense that Auction are striving to do something genuinely artistic with their music. In this instance, that definitely doesn't mean the dizzying soundscapes the likes of Radiohead have made a career out of.

Instead, Auction take to writing and recording their material in unusual places, namely the old auction house that inspired their band name. It's that simplicity striking again, something so simple as conceiving their music in these unique surroundings that imbues Statues with such vigour and charm.

Raw and unexpected, Statues is a prime lot to watch out for over the coming year, and Auction most definitely have our bid. And best of all, the track is available as a free download from the band's website - http://www.auctiontheband.com/

Dionne Bromfield - Foolin' feat. Lil Twist

It seems obvious to say, but listening to Dionne Bromfield's new single Foolin', it's hard to believe 'that' voice can come from someone so young. In Dionne's case, she sizes up at only fifteen years of age - yet despite this, there's a richness and maturity to her voice of someone twice her years.

Signed to Amy Winehouse's Lioness Records - comparisons between Dionne and Amy are bound to be made, but beyond the whole retro, brass heavy 60s sound they both take to, Dionne's music represents something very different. Amy was all about regal decadence and a real stately, atmospheric sound, but Dionne is so much more about kicking back and having a good time.

And Foolin' is the epitome of that - a classy, Supremes styled bit of easy listening, basking in its horn section and sentimental little touches of strings. That said though, it's also surprisingly danceable, and this along with the Lil Twist rap feature, it highlights one of Dionne's chief merits.

She's got the 'youth factor', a fresh sound that in many ways reminds me of what the Sugababes were about when they first started out at the turn of the millennium. There's swagger, a slight kick of attitude; perhaps best channelled in the confident refrain of 'I'm not mugging myself off' in the chorus.

And the thing with rap interludes - well, so often they take away from a previously perfectly rounded pop track; but in the case of Foolin', the inclusion seems genuine and actually brings something extra to what's on offer. And like when Amy included Ghostface Killah on You Know I'm No Good, you can see absolutely why it works so well - instantly the song is opened up to so many audiences.

Dionne is young and trendy enough to dominate Radio 1 playlists but also possesses the sheer class and retro sounds to delight the older audiences too. Debut single Damn Right was a massive airplay hit - one of those month-defining smashes that seems to emanate from the very air around you; think back on memories of that time in months to come and they'll invariably be accompanied by snatches of that track's hooks.

It's the mass-appeal effect at its very best - and just like Damn Right, Foolin' shows Dionne is already a master at it.

Foolin' is released on the 5th June.

Friday, 27 May 2011

KTLA Morning News chat US X Factor & Cheryl's accent

With the impossibly massive black hole of speculation about Cheryl and her apparent ejection from the US X Factor, sometimes it's good just to cut straight to the heart of the matter.

As many people have commented, this whole business that the reason she's been 'sacked' because of her accent is ridiculous. Not only does it not make sense (show co-host Steve Jones also has a strong regional accent), but it is also insulting to Americans; implying they are too stupid to understand her accent.

And this is what KTLA Morning News pick up on in this rather charming clip. They're really supportive of Cheryl, singing her praises and emphasising her UK success - best of all though is a hefty montage of clips of Cheryl speaking on the UK X Factor to illustrate their point that they can understand her perfectly. They even say her accent is cute.

They then play a proper LOL-worthy clip of fellow US judge Paula Abdul cocking up her words massively.

Point proved.

Nadine Coyle in the US - her new single Runnin'

Over here in the UK, things have been relatively quiet in the Nadine Coyle camp compared to her fellow Girls Aloud girls - Nicola's currently all-systems-go with her own solo material and as for Cheryl, well, you'd have to have been hiding under a rock not to have heard the jaw-dropping X Factor news this week.

Many Nadine fans felt underdone by the way her UK album campaign unfolded, the second single Put Your Hands Up ultimately only surfacing as a remix on a dance compilation. It's fantastic to hear then that things are hotting up again with Nadine charting highly in the Virgin Media Music Awards 'Best Single' category. Even more exciting though is the fact that one of the stand-out tracks from her album, Runnin', is being released over in the US!

So what's in store over the coming weeks for Nadine in America? Well, she'll be checking with key DJ's in New York to help promote Runnin' as well as making a number of personal appearances at glamorous parties. A new photoshoot is also in the works - We can't wait to see the new pictures! I hear that Runnin' has been picked up by some key stations over in the US so this bodes very well - America has always been held up as the real touch nut to crack, but looking at the success of artists like Adele over there recently, there's never been a better time than now to make a go of it.

Runnin' has always been one of my favourite tracks from Nadine's album - and makes for a great single choice too; it's something very different from both the feisty rock vibes of Insatiable and the punchy R&B/Dance fusion that is Put Your Hands Up. What we're given instead is a shimmery slice of majestic beauty and a classic Nadine vocal underpinned by a low, almost menacing synth bassline.You need only look to Girls Aloud's landmark single Call The Shots to see how easily a dreamy mid-tempo track like Runnin' could shoot to success - an interesting little pop fact for you too here; BBC Radio 1 have been using the track for literally ages as a sound-bed for their news stories.

If anything, Runnin' serves to back up what a real pop gem Nadine's solo album is - both the record and her dazzling performance at London's GAY club last year really showcasing just what Nadine is capable of as a singer, and as a star in her own right.

Runnin' is due for a summer release including remixes of the track by Vito Fun and Damian Major.

(Book Review) Paul Hoffman - The Left Hand of God

Paul Hoffman’s imagination certainly can’t be faulted. In the four-hundred or so pages of The Left Hand of God, he manages to create a wonderfully unique and quirky world. The plot is relatively standard fantasy-quest fare – a whole host of twists and turns leading central character Cale from his oppression at the hands of a strict religious order to the vast, opulent city of Memphis. It’s not the plot that makes the novel stand out though – if I’m completely honest, the plot actually lets the book down a little, it’s all perhaps a little too convoluted. No, what makes Cale’s adventures stand out is the sheer idea’s Hoffman draws on, as well as his highly distinct writing style.

His tone is highly colloquial, reading the book, you feel as if he’s sat there opposite you, relating this vast saga over a glass or two of wine. It’s all a little bit of this, a little bit of that; everything helping to contribute to this patchwork world that seems to hold certain similarities to our own (mentions to Norway among others), but so many other differences.

On the whole, this works to the book’s favour – indeed, it is its biggest draw. But there are times when it can grow tiresome – this book is full of digressions, many holding no relevance to the central plot. Yes, it could be argued they add to the world of the novel, but there’s only so many quirky deviations you can tolerate before you feel like saying ‘get on with it’. Rest assured, if there’s something Hoffman can say in two words, he’ll use twenty instead.

That word again, ‘quirky’. The Left Hand of God is very much a product of the ‘random’ school of writing. Authors like Lemony Snicket are the masters of it – that wry, humorous slant on everything; even the darkest of matters like death and hardship.

Which brings me to a matter I found rather troublesome – who exactly this book is aimed at. It’s definitely not for children – swear-words are frequent, as are sexual references and on the whole a rather grim tone of black humour that pervades through the whole book. Equally though, the book definitely doesn’t feel like it’s for adults either. The central characters are children and the ‘quirky’ tone, as mentioned above, often works against itself. Teenagers then perhaps? They certainly seem the most viable audience for the book.

The issue of the intended audience always seems to rear its head in regards to fantasy novels (of which, The Left Hand of God most definitely is), but it seems even more prevalent here. The difficulty to place the novel is representative of the ever-shifting, undefined quality that seems to cloak so many elements of the plot and its characters. Cale might be young, but he is also a highly trained killer, and one who will do so without a shred of remorse. Again, it’s almost unsettling to imagine this boy journeying around ending lives so ruthlessly, as he does in one scene where he effortlessly kills eight men in about as many minutes.

I also found the portrayal of the female characters in the book rather troublesome too – so often they seemed reduced to mere sensual objects, mostly described in regards to their appearance or how they might best interact with men.

Let’s pick up on some of the more positive aspects though – If you’re a fan of vivid characters and lots of backstabbing and treachery, The Left Hand of God will be right up your street. For a fantasy novel, it’s refreshing to see something so focused on its characters and the book really feels propelled by their dealings with one-another. Much of this centres around favours, the plot unfolding around a twisted web of benefits and bonuses for those skilled characters who best manage to eke out an existence in this immensely competitive world.

Competitiveness is another key element of the book – as you might expect of a classic fantasy novel, there’s plenty of fight scenes and swordplay. Here, it’s all about hyper-skilled characters, the real crème de la crème fighting other extremely talented individuals. And while at times it all feels a little Top Trumps (he’s just that little bit stronger/faster so he wins the fight), it’s good fun and well-written stuff.

And so, just as so many elements of The Left Hand of God are hard to pin down, so to is it hard to decide what I ultimately make of the book. I was certainly entertained, and Hoffman’s imagination is undeniable. But so often I felt the plot dragged immensely as the characters went through the processes again of unpacking their own individual philosophies on life or what skills they posses. As such, the book feels an unnecessarily bulky beast. There are many cuts of prime fantasy fare to be found here for sure, but you feel that if only everything was more lean and streamlined, the whole affair would be that whole lot more enjoyable.

Cynic Guru - Catastrophe

Here's something interesting - An exciting new US/Icelandic rock group that sound like Brit-Pop's heydeys. Cynic Guru's new single Catastrophe is pure Charlatans and Stone Roses; good old-fashioned lad-rock at its best.

Bands like Kasabian became superstars with their fusion of rock swagger and electronic influences, and Cynic Guru look to do the same here.

Catastrophe is a sprawling, immense tracks, a thing of so many chapters and levels; a forty-story tower block of roiling energy and pent up passion.

The chorus of 'I just called to say that I love you' is pure Oasis. Sure, this is a bunch of guys singing about love, but it's no James Blunt wishy-washyness. There's no undue cheese or cringe-factor moments, just good, honest emotion.

And like the many textures of the track, the band's career holds many aspects to it too - with a Number One hit in Iceland and orchestra experience forming part of their resume. Perhaps the real irony is that despite the band hailing from the USA and Iceland, they sound so completely and utterly British. It's almost bewitching.

Either way, Catastrophe is an absolute stormer of a song, packing choruses a mile high and suitably cinematic string sections which help round off an already considerably epic track.

Catastrophe's b-side Secret is very good too, betraying more of the band's US heritage; showcasing rougher vocals and a hefty Rage Against The Machine-esque guitar riff. Excellent stuff.

Catastrophe is released on the 4th July.

Jessie J on the cover of YRB mag

Jessie J has always been a very striking individual - and for me at any rate, her unique image is one of my favourite parts of her as a popstar. She is a sheer force of personality, and a great deal of that personality comes from her image - and is this that she injects so well into her music.

So when I saw her on the cover of the new issue of YRB mag, my jaw dropped quite a lot - because I think this is quite literally The Best I have ever seen her. Quite aside from the fact she looks breathtakingly stunning, the gold chains over shiny black leather dress look suits her perfectly. It's just the right balance between Do It Yourself and super-style, that delicate knife edge Jessie has always walked so well.

It's photoshoots and covers like this that show just how far Jessie has come, how she really has made it in every sense of the word. Looking at the YRB cover, she looks so much the superstar. And that superstar is here to stay.

(Single Cover) - Parade - Perfume

We don't need to tell you how amazingly gorgeous and wonderful the Parade girls are because, quite frankly, it's bloomin' obvious. But if you needed more proof, just take a look at the cover art for their new single Perfume.


It looks fantastic. I just love the styling going on with the girls at the moment, they really bring something completely different to the table, and their outfits really reflect each of the girls' personalities too. Above all, everything feels fun and lively - which is everything Parade are as a band.

I'm a big fan of them using yellow for the text too - Yellow = A Very Summery Colour.

(Also, if you've got very good eyesight, have a look at Jessica - is that the same belt and glasses Mollie from The Saturdays wears in their Notorious video?)

Perfume is released on the 20th June.

The Saturdays - Notorious (Jorg Schmid Radio Edit)

If The Saturdays new single Notorious wasn't already dancey enough for you, you may want to check out the donk-tastic mix by Jorg Schmid. You know the drill, this is the kind of mix that forms the centre-point to one of those epic Clubland compilations (yes, those ones with the cool graphics and hot babe on the CD cover).

Jorg Schmid has past form when it comes to mixing up the Saturdays, previously turning his hand to one of my personal favourites, Forever Is Over. With Notorious, some rather nice piano hooks are thrown in and those dreamy 'oooooohhh' bits are teased out to form the heart of this version. And yes, there's all kinds of immense, spacey synths firing off left, right and centre too.

Now you can be even more of a gangster on the dancefloor.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Beyonce - 1+1

It seems like only yesterday that we were subjected to the full on force of (Run The World) Girls, and truth be told, it only seemed to have fully 'arrived' with that jaw-droppingly amazing performance from the Billboard Awards.

But never one to rest on her laurels, Beyonce is already up and releasing a new single, entitled 1+1. (Yes, that's definitely '1+1', not One Plus One or any other maths/grammar variation on the matter...)

This is definitely more in If I Were A Boy territitory - all slow, chilled and ringing with guitar. And yes, Beyonce's vocal absolutely dominates as always

Then it all goes into an epic Pink Floyd-esque guitar solo. First thoughts: OH MY GOD... Is this actually happening? Beyonce sounding like Pink Floyd. It's bizarre, random, but so amazing. And I can tell that this will be a real grower too, just like Run The World was.

But then, all the best Beyonce singles always are.

Austra - Feel It Break

Toronto based trio Austra are a delicate creature - lead singer Katie Stelmanis coming very much from the Florence & The Machine line of affairs, her vocals imbued with that same capacity for intense power; that almost spiritual quality.

The band's music couldn't be further away from good old Florence and Co. though - enter sparkling, energetic synth workouts that sound like they've been conjured up on old eighties hardware dug out of someone's attic. There's mystique here aplenty, an almost baroque, hand-crafted quality - have a listen to standout track Lose It from the band's debut Feel It Break and you'll hear it straight away.

As the titles make clear, this is a record centred around loss and things falling apart - every part of Lose It feeling so tender and like it could shatter in a stiff breeze, only for Katie's vocal to blast through, reinforcing and strengthening again. Mixed by Damian Taylor of Bjork and UNKLE fame, it bears a similar richness and air of innovation as these artists.

It's well worth checking out the mix of her track Beat and the Pulse available to download freely on her website too - all atmospheric, darkly pulsating electronics, it's dance it its most moody and intense. The vocals are kept to a minimum, tweaked into haunting siren-like calls that snake their way around the rubbery bassline.

There's a sense of space, of a vast expanse longing to be filled with emotion - this is a cold, almost icy record; but those vocals come almost as a cry for human contact, a longing to be touched and manipulated.

Feel It Break is out now and available to purchase here.

Austra - Beat and the Pulse (Steffi Bass Break Dub) by DominoRecordCo

Jill Scott feat. Anthony Hamilton - So In Love

Who's for a real classy slice of soul funk that sounds like it's been shot straight out of the early 90s? Well that's what you get with Jill Scott's latest single So In Love, the first from her new album The Light of the Sun.

The track is already a big hit in America and it's not hard to see why - Scott's voice is so natural, so beautifully attuned to everything going on around it that you feel yourself slipping into a kind of almost-hypnosis. Anthony Hamilton also features on the track, his own vocals serving as the perfect counter-part to Scott's.

With duets there's always the danger one singer will dominate or show up the other, but the two seem in absolute harmony here - two peas in a pod, so to speak.

With enervating lyrics of 'I feel like a breath of fresh air' riding high high on an irresistibly groovy beat, the record feels so empowered, so on the money in every sense. Some records try to be cool, some try to redefine what cool is, but there are those rare gems that beyond all reason and logic just are the very definition of what 'cool' is.

There's a suitably satisfying crispness to the percussion too, the piano chords floating on the breeze like angel wings; all underscored ever so delicately with dreamy synthetic strings.

Going on holiday somewhere hot this summer? So In Love is what you'll want playing as you lie back on some sun-kissed tropical beach.

So In Love is released on the 27th June.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Sweetheart - The Avenue

Sweetheart seems a rather apt name for this Southampton band; their debut single The Avenue being steeped in a sugary collection of retro pop hooks. Scouting for Girls, The Feeling... Sweetheart slide effortlessly alongside these bands with their cheery Supertramp piano chords and the sense they're singing all this with a cheeky wink and a smile.

There's more of a punch to them than first impressions would seem to dictate though - a sense of staying power rooted right in the heart of the song. The Avenue is in many ways a classic lads anthem in the vein of Madness or The Jam, with a singalong chorus to match. Indeed, like the band's name, the record's title seems quite fitting too - you can imagine this soundtracking Pimms-fuelled summer street parties up and down the country.

Interestingly, the band's keyboard player and singer Harry Burgess says the song centres around 'a flurry of demotivational lyrics' aimed squarely at the products of shows like The X Factor and American Idol. The pop hooks here in The Avenue are apparently highly ironic, a targeted 'over indulgence' to further attack the kind of song spawned from these reality shows.

But of course the real irony is that in the process the band have actually created a highly solid pop track themselves, and there's no shame in that, because that's what the public at large will remember you for in years to come.

The Avenue is released on the 30th May.

Six D - 2 Seconds

If you went to see The Saturdays on tour earlier this year, you'll have already experienced a taste of the Six D phenomenon.

Imagine a British Black Eyed Peas (Except with six member instead of four, hence, 'Six D') - twin that with the energy, youthful swagger and urban cred of N-Dubz and you're on your way to what the group represents.

New track 2 Seconds is a big, bold move forward for the band - on The Sats tour they delivered a succinct, club-ready brand of dance-pop, but 2 Seconds feels distinctly darker, more grimy, and with infinitely more space to showcase the group's talents to the full.

Spitting auto-tuned raps and reverb-heavy hand-claps, 2 Seconds comes on like the meeting place between late 80s Chicago house and the latest production trends in British rap. The track feels genuinely adventurous, with a confidence that spills out from the group's eagerness to impress. And it's an eagerness that is deeply catching - maybe it's the track's length, coming in at just a snip under three minutes, but there's a real rush here.

2 Seconds doesn't stop to let anyone to catch up; if you can't keep pace then you're left in the dust. This is a track that runs only on the 'sprint' setting, a turbo-charged shot that gets more and more addictive with every listen. Such is its potency that those moments immediately after the track finishes become filled with an almost irresistible twitch to play the track again.

It's undoubtable that 2 Seconds sees Six D upping the ante on every level. More mature, more slick, more knowing - this is the group truly hitting their stride, and these guys aren't the sort to give up the lead once they're there. Also, isn't it great to see another mixed boy/girl group in pop again! There aren't enough of them around these days.

2 Seconds is released as a double-A-side on the 24th July and can be pre-ordered from iTunes here.

Waka Flocka Flame feat. Roscoe Dash & Wale - No Hands

When I was younger, 'flocking' was something you did to create a fake grass effect on painted model soldiers and scenery made out of foam. But Waka Flocka Flame definitely doesn't involve setting said models on fire. No, he's actually a rather hip American rapper signed to So Icey Entertainment.

His latest single No Hands is rather deceptively titled to be honest. I mean, there are a lot of things you can do with no hands; like walk down the street, or kick a football. So we had best look at the lyrics to see exactly what Wacka is getting at here... 'Throw this money while you do it with no hands'.

Yup, No Hands is basically an anthem to blow jobs. Fantastic.

In all seriousness, it's also a fairly bog-standard Lil Wayne-channelling bit of mechanistic rap - all gunshot beats and grinding stabs of synth brass. The kind of song you pleasantly tolerate instead of actively listen to, at any rate. It's not bad, but then, could you ever truly hate a song containing the line 'Girl, drop it to the floor, I love the way your booty goes'.


No Hands is available to download now.

All Mankind - Break The Spell

Don't you just love it when a song sounds so utterly like another time, another place, that just with the opening bars, you're sent spinning back into the recesses of your memory? Even better then when that blast of nostalgia comes from two distinct directions - All Mankind stand as one such creature.

They're steeped in the sound of The Killers; and a good Killers at that, when everyone's favourite New-Wave inspired US rockers were firing on all cylinders. Lead singer Rich Beeston's vocals bear a striking resemblance to Brandon Flowers and these lie at the very heart of the churning hurricane of energy that is Break The Spell. Launching from an aHa-esque piano hook, the song feels like the older, wiser coming to said band's classic Take On Me.

Remember when The Killers dominated the airwaves back in 2005, their first album sweeping away all else in its path? And how all those other bands fought for a slice of that action by fronting a sound very similar to The Killers? The Bravery... Boy Kill Boy... Was it coincidence they sounded like the band soaking up all the limelight? Merely a question of striking on a similar sound at a similar time?

The interesting thing was that these 'similar' bands actually opened up the market, for as similar as they sounded, they each came with their own personality and differences. A Boy Kill Boy song sounded like the Killers, but it also definitely sounded very 'Boy Kill Boy'. Identity. That was what it was all about. And in a crowded market, these bands fought tooth and claw to carve out their own patch on the scene.

So coming back to All Mankind, to see a band returning to a sound that some years ago worked SO profoundly well is rather refreshing. It's like revisiting all your favourite records only to find they sound new and exciting with some new twists and turns thrown in. Break The Spell is the essence of a radio-friendly rock track these days. And for Sydney-based All Mankind, it also sounds like the key that will unlock so many doors for them in the UK. The band have recently finished recording their full debut album and with their track Hollywood Tonight featuring on that glamorously amazing hit MTV show The Hills, things look very promising indeed.

Break The Spell is out this week and available to download here.

Monday, 23 May 2011

INTERVIEW - Starlings

This week sees Sheffield's finest, Starlings, releasing their new single 'Sirens' - the follow-up to debut track 'Weight In Gold', it sees them bringing New Wave back to Britain with a bang. I caught up with the band as they share their thoughts on the eighties, songwriting and living the rock and roll lifestyle on tour.

Your sound is very 80s influenced – do you have a favorite track from the 80s?

The 80s was a remarkable decade for music, one which I don’t think will ever be beaten for innovation.  If I had to pick one favorite track at the moment, it would be The Rainbow from Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden album.  It is constantly on repeat on my iPod.  It gives me shivers.  To be fair I could have picked any track from Talk Talk's back catalogue.  Talk Talk were the ultimate balearic rock band and they are an indelible influence on our own balearic sound.  Mark Hollis is a genius!

How did it feel the first time your track was played on BBC radio?

Getting BBC radio play still carries great kudos, even in the internet age, and it is an important milestone which all up and coming bands look to pass.  We were naturally over the moon when we got our first BBC radio play.  Like any quality exposure, it leaves you wanting more.  It also has the effect of reinforcing your internally held beliefs and on some level makes you realise that you probably are as good as you think you are.

Do you think the music scene is a friendly place for new bands to launch into at the moment or is it too competitive/crowded?

I think the music scene at grass roots/local level can be a fairly friendly place to be.  There have never been more opportunities for bands to get their music instantly heard and there have never been more places to play on the live circuit.   Perhaps the effect of this is that the scene has become saturated with average acts big on bluster but lacking in substance and songs.  This makes it harder for the really good new bands to get their heads above the parapet.  But I'm a firm believer that the good will out.

You talk about your hometown of Sheffield being important to your sound – are there any specific approaches you take when it comes to writing songs?

Sheffield's electronic music heritage has had an important influence on our sound.  The handful of bands I’ve been in have always used synthesised elements and I think a lot of that can be out down to the osmotic effects that electronically minded acts like Heaven 17, ABC, Cabaret Voltaire and the Warp record label have on those that grow up in the Steel City.  Sheffield still has a bit of an Artic Monkey's guitar group hangover, which has pushed us further away from six strings towards more synths and samples.  All elements together, Sheffield has moulded our identity and sound.

Nearly all of our songs start as chords on a guitar or a piano, to which we stitch a vocal melody.  We then get the right synth sounds, before exporting the embryonic idea to the practice room where we add the bass guitar and drums to the mix, before layering up any drum loops and electronic samples.  The lyrics come last.

How is the whole touring around the country experience treating you? Does it live up to the classic ‘rock and roll’ stereotypes?

Living the dream.  Free booze and free love.  Nothing more to say.  What goes on on tour, stays on tour.

You filmed your video for Sirens in the peak district – how naturally does filming a video come compared to the usual business of recording songs/playing live?

Recording a video has similarities with both recording songs and playing live.  There are scenes that you have to do again and again in order to get the correct take, which is similar to time spent on pause and repeat in the studio.  Then you have to mix that with the performance elements you would use in a live environment.  If you're a born performer, shooting a video forms a fun part of your artiste repertoire.

What can we expect from your debut album? And do you feel the album ‘format’ is still important in an age when most people download their music?

To us, the album format is still massively important.  It gives artists the opportunity to show that they have a body of work rather than being just one hit wonders.  Sometimes music has to be heard in context and as part of a bigger picture, which only the album format (and perhaps playing a longer live set) can provide.  Colour of Spring and Spirit of Eden by Talk Talk are perfect examples of single elements forming part of a perfect composite piece.

For our debut album, expect extended singles, super songs and a shimmering disco sheen.

Who run the world? Beyonce, that's who

A show-stopping TV performance is hard to pull off. Just ask any popstar worth their salt. It takes time, dedication, commitment, ingenuity, money... the list goes on and on.

These days, it's so often a case of us having seen it all before, that it takes a lot to wow us. CGI movies in the cinema, incredible technology at our fingertips, and the likes of Lady Gaga pushing forward the boundaries of what is considered the norm for pop music. So when it comes to making the most of that all-important TV performance slot you've been given, you sure as hell had best work it to its best.

Take Beyonce's latest single, Run The World (Girls) - both critical and commercial success for it has been pretty mixed here in the UK. Personally, while being as divided as the next person when I first heard it, it came to grow immensely on me. But there's a magic to making a song click with people, and a performance like the one Beyonce delivered at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards is one such moment.

For starters, when your big moment in the spotlight comes attached with a two minute prelude stuffed full with some of the biggest names in the world, you know you're on to something special. Hell, this makes the X Factor intros look like small potatoes. Here, everyone's lining up to sing Beyonce's praises... Lady Gaga, Bono, Actual Michelle Obama! It is testament to Beyonce's all-encompassing appeal and mega-success that these celebs are so forthcoming with their kind words. 'High persuasion can build a nation,' sings Beyonce in the track's chorus, but Beyonce's own personal nation is already there, towering above everyone else. She doesn't need to persuade anyone, they're already converted - all this in regards to Beyonce, the persona of course; the jury's still out on the song...

So what does she go and do? Pull out a breathtaking routine featuring what seems like hundreds of dancers and a hi-tech graphic wall that turns her into some kind of video-game character. The genius on display here is palpable. Beyonce kicks butt, quite literally; sending her dancers sprawling onto the floor after decimating them with a red pole. Beyond amazing.

This is Beyonce's nation - her world, her dreams; made real for all of us. I don't know about you, but I want in.

Urban Myth Club - Surrender

When I covered Urban Myth Club's brilliant new album Open Up back in February, Surrender was the track that truly stood out for me. Every great record has one, that single moment that stands for everything that album is about - distilling it into a single instant of brilliance.

And so, for the duo, Surrender becomes their calling card; their resume of chilled out ambient bliss. And boy does it send out a good message. A lush ballad tinged with Eastern melodies and Bjork-esque vocals, string sections swell like swathes of grass blowing in the wind. Against this, the bass pulses slow and subdued in the background - indeed, Surrender stands as the epitome of a comedown track.

Airy, dream-like - this is so much the sound of a blazing sunset going down over an Ibiza horizon that you can almost taste it. These are the memories you'll keep after the very best of days. The chorus implores us to 'lose yourself in love', and if losing ourselves sounds as good as this, we certainly don't want to be found. Not yet anyway...

The result is that you're left marvelling, as with the whole Open Up album, at the sheer beauty on offer here. Surrender's power though is that taken on its own, removed from the hypnotic entity of the entire record, it still functions in every sense as a pop record.

Surrender is released on the 27th June.

R.E.M. - It Happened Today

R.E.M.'s latest album Collapse Into Now was a real thing of contrasts. On one level, it was so wonderfully refreshing to see a band so far into their career producing something so clearly youthful in sound. The up-tempo numbers genuinely felt like they could stand their ground amidst many bands half the age R.E.M. are. Because after all, so many these days owe so much to that original R.E.M. sound.

And therein lies the other beauty of Collapse Into Now - it felt timeless and fiercely independent. It could have come from any point in the band's career, slotting effortlessly into any decade. R.E.M. are not a band to rest on their laurels or alter every trace of their sound to chase trends. No, they are quite content to keep existing within their own tightly defined boundaries, and it's a scene that suits them. Some might call them boring, but as their fans are sure to pipe up about, it's just R.E.M. being R.E.M. And Collapse Into Now really was an album 'for the fans', a thank you for sticking with the band all this time.

Of course, the irony is that in the creation of the album, the band actually created their most open and friendly record in years. This is an album that could function as an introduction for the casual listener to everything the band represents - the slow, rapturous beauty of Uberlin or the frantic, scratchy rhythms of Mine Smell Like Honey.

But where does It Happened Today slot into all this? As a single, it feels tantalisingly slow - as if at any moment it could all launch into an epic guitar solo or final all-out chorus. But it never does, because R.E.M. are not ones to showboat. In many ways, it's almost hymn-like; the hummed vocals ringing out long after the final washes of reverb-heavy guitar fade away. And while it may not snap to the attention like Uberlin, it seems somehow quaintly fitting for what a fourth single should be, the good company of an old friend you know will always be there for you.

It Happened Today is released on the 29th May.

New releases round-up - 23rd May 2011

Lady Gaga - Born This Way

The third (or is that second??) album from the global chart-topper. We've all seen the risque reaction-baiting videos and heard her anthems for self-acceptance, now get hold of a whole album of the stuff with Lady Gaga's long awaited Born This Way. And yes, if you purchase this, you too can become a strange person/bike hybrid.

The Pierces - Glorious

The third in a series of absolutely stunning singles, the Alabama sisters (with a little help from Coldplay's Guy Berryman) are back with their joyous new track Glorious. Expect breathtaking Abba-esque vocal harmonies mixed with soulful country-tinged pop. And all this with a good dose of lurid 70s psychadelica.

The Saturdays - Notorious

The UK's hottest girl group are back and they've got their sights firmly set on the top spot with this infectious club anthem. Vocodered boasts of being a 'gangster on the dancefloor' back up a sizzling bassline that seems ready-made to knock back shots to.

Starlings - Sirens

One of our favourite new bands at the moment, Starlings represent a chic, streamlined return to the heights of the 80s New Wave sound. Anthemic choruses and glossy synth rushes inject new single Sirens with a real punch that serves as a fitting introduction to this brilliant Sheffield outfit.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Dutch Uncles - Cadenza

The title track from the Mancunian band's second album, Cadenza is a mystical little thing. Leaping from place to place on a bouncy piano riff, there's an elusive, meandering quality to it; almost as if it was some magical little firefly.

As the guitar kicks in there's touches of Two Door Cinema Club to the track and the vocals certainly reflect said band too. Both share that same knack for penning sprightly, modern indie-pop tracks that aren't willing to simply do things by the numbers for a cheap shot at success.

Hailing from Manchester, we can't ignore the immense legacy Dutch Uncles find themselves following in the footsteps of. Madchester, that great idol-like explosion that spawned forth so many wonderful classics twenty years ago.

Sweeping out of that proud city, these early innovators changed the British musical landscape forever with their fusion of guitars and dance heritage - so it's immensely heartening to see Dutch Uncles following this same ethic all these years on.

Cadenza is out now.

Introducing... The Sanfernando Sound

Welcome to the world of Jason Sieu Persad, AKA The Sanfernando Sound. The producer has been making waves recently with his slick re-works of tracks by Two Door Cinema Club, Starlings and Anoraak.

The charm of Jason's takes on the tracks is that they remain respectful of the originals - Take the What You Know mix, all the hooky guitar riffs that made the song such an immense radio hit remain, now added to surging waves of static and funky synth basslines.

The over-riding sound is telling of The Sanfernado Sound's chief influences - Jason cites Tears For Fears, Pet Shop Boys, Blancmange and New Order amongst his favourite bands, and we don't need to tell you how amazing they all are. That big, bold shine of the 80s is everywhere on these remixes; with a single click of a retro drum machine you're tipped back into a world of neon and day-glo bliss.

With support from International DJ magazine and BBC 6 Music, The Sanfernando Sound is on the rise, and just like the wave of eighties glamour it channels, it's sweeping up more and more fans wherever it goes. Time to grab your best dancing shoes and join in.

Two Door Cinema Club - What You Know - The Sanfernando Sound REMIX by The Sanfernando Sound

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Shoot The Dead - Don't Stop Dancing

Brighton four piece Shoot The Dead (a rather morbid but curiously enchanting band name) are the kind of battle of the bands spawned outfit who are making waves for all the right reasons; chiefly, their music is actually good.

Don't Stop Dancing is the perfect intro to the band if you've not head of them before; a punky, synth-laced bit of grinding bassline and shouty vocals. Like a cross between a more hefty Go! Team and The Silversun Pickups, they deliver a scathing critique on capitalism here, the chorus ringing out to a cry of 'It's all about the corporation and how you and I will cease to be!'

Lead singer Andi makes the track, channelling the Pretty Reckless in her shouts of 'Don't stop dancing!' Don't worry Andi, we won't. The indie/dance thing has been done so many times but remarkably Shoot The Dead manage to find a new angle on it; Don't Stop Dancing sounds distinctly fresh and lively.

There's a real 'get up and do it yourself' ethic going on here - the band's sound feels profoundly 'them'. They're not playing to any trends, just making the kind of music they clearly love and are passionate about.

As the band's press release rather humorously puts it, playing on their initials, 'this is one STD you need to catch!'

Don't Stop Dancing is released on the 27th June.

Friday, 20 May 2011

The Skuzzies - The Skuzzies

When you come to a band like The Skuzzies, your instant impression is to go down the good old 'does what it says on the tin' route. Skuzzies? File under grungy, distorted, low-fi indie rock... yup, right next to those ripped skinny jeans and vintage leather jacket you got off your dad.

The band's logo, scrawled into their self titled debut album's cover only serves to add to that image; it wouldn't look out of place hastily carved into a school desk - a defiant act of anarchy against the masses. Hey, there's even a track featuring the prince of riotious youth, Peter Doherty himself, on here.

Yes, there's the rebellion of that logo - but it's found next to a quirky manga rendering of the band, hinting at an ethic that, for all its grittyness, isn't afraid to shy away from pop culture either. Strokes producer Gordon Raphael, speaking of the band, hailed them as ‘one of the best new groups in London'. A bold claim, and one that stresses even more the importance that this debut is up to scratch.

The Skuzzies' music is dirty, rough, and oh so full of the essence of London. It's as if someone's dug deep into the heart of the city's backstreets and dingy bars and found the band's sound, ready-made to rock.

The tracks are remarkably varied to be honest, the continual foundation running throughout being the meaty basslines and stabs of spiky guitar. Hungry as a Hound is a suitably snappy intro to the record; coming in at just over two and a half minutes long it wastes no times in showing you exactly what The Skuzzies are about.

Then there's Brompton Cocktail, which while sounding like something you'd mix up on a Saturday night, is also pure Clash - a London Calling for the 21st century. It's lad rock at its most angsty - overflowing with testosterone.

On The Corner, the LP's final track, AKA 'the one with Peter Doherty on it', works so well because it genuinely sounds like a long lost Libertines classic; serving to remind us that while so may bands have tried to recreate that sound, so few get it right. Thankfully, The Skuzzies are one of the select few who nail the sound and the result is one of the best tracks on the album.

The Skuzzies is released on the 1st August.