Saturday, 31 December 2011
Coldplay functioning at their best are good. Really damn good. And that's what Charlie Brown is all about - Coldplay acting up to their status as 'the world's biggest band', as their dramatic X Factor intro tape put it.
And if anything, it was that epic XF Final performance that crystallised what both the band and this song stand for - a rock band that have gone beyond any normal sense of mass popularity to a new division, a higher league of success.
In terms of bands of their generation, what Coldplay have gone on to achieve is pretty much without parallel. And that made the consistency and overall quality of new LP Mylo Xyloto all the more surprising - did a band of their advancing years have any right to make an album *this* good?
Charlie Brown pins everything around that massive, sky-piercing guitar hook - it really is a thing of sheer majesty. When the band released Viva La Vida, they unlocked the floodgates on an angelic sweeping collective of sounds that, while a move away from their former 'traditional' Britpop sounds, played perfectly into their position of the band that everyone (sometimes secretly) loves.
But with Charlie Brown, there is no secrecy needed, for a record this good, all that's required is appreciation. And if there's any moment on Mylo Xyloto that sums up the ecstasy and general sense of good-feeling that Coldplay can conjure up when operating at top-spec, it's Charlie Brown.
Charlie Brown is released on the 10th January.
Friday, 30 December 2011
A few weeks ago we wrote a few musings on what Tulisa's solo material might be like and how excited we are for her debut album. At the moment, any details regarding the record are rather sketchy but there have been a couple of tantalising hints about who she's working with on the project, and we were very happy to hear one of them is Talay Riley.
Some might know him better for writing hits like Jessie J's Who's Laughing Now or featuring on Chipmunk's Look For Me, but we've been loving Talay's own material here on the blog for a while now, especially the ace Make You Mine.
Here's what Talay had to say about working with Tulisa:
"Tulisa and I recorded a song called When I Go Home before she got The X Factor job. I really hope it can be a single but I’m not sure what will happen because of her TV commitments. The song sounds like Chris Brown and Jordan Sparks’s No Air and has a Kings Of Leon-style *guitar breakdown. It’s something very different for Tulisa."
Now, I don't know about you, but that sounds all kind of epic. Another of other reports have suggested that Tulisa might disregard her urban roots for a more 'indie' influenced sound on her solo material, which only serves to whet our appetite more for the first snippets of actual songs that must surely emerge over the coming months.
In the meantime, Tulisa has been very forthcoming about how much she'd like to collaborate with her X Factor 'muffins' Little Mix - judging by the initial Twitter reactions after their Alicia Keys mash-up group performance, everyone seemed to be a loving a bit of the 'five-piece' Little Mix, though we imagine Tulisa wouldn't want her big solo statement to become too tied up with the band's own launch proper later in the year.
Finally, we rather enjoyed reading that Tulisa's dream duet would be with Sting - it's not too far of a long-shot either, with the Police frontman teaming up with Nicole Scherzinger for emo ballad Power's Out. Other potential collaborators for Tulisa's solo album include Labrinth, who revealed:
"It's to be confirmed. It might happen. We did have talks about walking on her record, and I would love to work with her so it might just happen anyway."
If you're already aware of hot new girlgroup Fanfair, you'll have no doubt seen their fab 'Get The Look!' videos in partnership with Collection 2000.
So we can expect more from both the girls and the beauty/cosmetics brand in 2012 as Fanfair take to the road in Feb/March supporting the Wanted on their massive UK arena tour. Exciting times!
The girls have had a showbiz packed calendar lately, attending the premiere of new Daniel Craig The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and we can't wait to see them looking suitably glamtastic on tour, delighting fans everywhere with their perky pop tunes. We're loving their track Miracle at the moment, and you can hear a little taster of it below:
It's hard not to make a joke about the Kaiser Chiefs being 'on the run' themselves. The sales figures from their last album The Future Is Medieval were disastrous, despite the adventurous marketing techniques the band employed, with lead single Little Shocks liming to a woeful 179 in the official charts. Oh Dear.
Eager not to repeat the three year hiatus (where mostly everyone seemed to forget about them) that preceded the record, they're gunning for a 2012 release of new LP Start The Revolution Without Me. Of course, with a title as combative as that, the band seem almost to be setting themselves up for a kind of do-or-die scenario - they've come a long way from their 2 Million-selling debut and it's easy to think this latest effort might address a band frustrated with changing times and shifting scenes.
Speaking to the Daily Star about On The Run, the first single to be taken from the new album, drummer Nick Hodgson explained: 'I’m on the run from the world really. There are too many opinions out there, like on Twitter. It’s full of rude, cruel people.'
Touted as a 'rant against modern society', the building blocks of On The Run sound on paper like the starting point for pretty much any angsty indie rocker tune. The question of course is, can the Kaiser Chiefs actually recapture the witty pop fun that made the likes of I Predict a Riot and Ruby the massive hits they were?
The Future Is Medieval showed some glimmers of hope - Starts With Nothing was a glorious New Wave styled gem. And it's down this path we like to think the band will continue, not dropping away into a sea of samey resentment like so many of their contemporaries (The Pigeon Detectives... The Automatic...) have done...
On The Run is set for a January release date.
First there was Tinchy, then Tinie - the surge of British rap into the mainstream in recent years has represented one of the most invigorating sea changes in chart music of the past decade. What's more, the new wave of artists breaking through from the urban scene doesn't look spent yet, with promising talent like Dot Rotten gunning to make it big in 2012.
What we like most about Dot Rotten is that he isn't afraid to dabble and mix in amongst the poppiest of pop acts - he's already made a number of forays into the charts in 2011 as part of Gary Barlow's Collective and as a featured artist on Cher Lloyd's Dub On The Track. With Polydor-signed Russo on hand to provide the female vocal hooks, Bad Tonight has all the gloss of a thoroughly mainstream, commercial effort - but its edginess is a sure sign of how far that mainstream, once so reviled by hipsters as 'too safe', has gone to incorporate wider influences.
Blending haunting, disembodied, robotic vocal hooks with a trembling dubstep tinged backing, Bad Tonight sounds as malevolent than the ill omen foreboding of its title. And its Dot Rotten that stands at the heart of it, the rock solid foundation from which the rest of the track towers up from. What's so refreshing about the track is that it pushes a more considered, explorative assault on the senses - at its best moments its a bigger, badder, slicker version of Professor Green's Jungle.
As for Dot Rotten himself, he's worked through beef with the likes of Chipmunk and Wiley to emerge as potentially the brightest star of all three. With the latter two encountering a number of recent chart placing woes, the track is primed for Rotten to lay down a blazing trail with Bad Tonight.
Russo's mixtape Lights Are Off - featuring Bad Tonight - is available to download from her site: http://www.russomusic.co.uk/
Electronica can be such a mixed bag at times that it's difficult to walk into a new track from the genre without at least some trepidation. We all can recount hearing at least one horror story of a 'song', a gloopy mish-mash of nothingness, an exercise in pulling out every synthetic tool in the box, resulting in a general failure at creating anything of merit at all.
But thankfully, SEOD, the new track from Polydor-signed Kindness is about as far away from these horror stories as electronica goes. What it is instead is an exciting adventure trip into past influences - expect lots of late 80s/early 90s house flavours and spacey, flanged synth riffs.
It's a glorious medley of sound that sounds constantly expansive, each minute building on the last. The beats are deliciously retro, all drum-machine click and hiss. As the piano and sax hooks roll in five minutes into the track, SEOD is already building to an ecstatic highlight of a crescendo.
Acting as a follow-up to October release Cyan, both tracks are set to feature on upcoming full-length effort World, You Need A Change Of Mind, released on the 19th March.
If there's anything that neatly sums up my confused feelings about Lana Del Rey, it's Q magazine's brilliant cover shot of her. With its wry 'bloody' pun, it wraps up all the frustration with her ridiculous levels of over-hype and artistic posturing - most importantly though, she looks great, like really really great.
Strip away the throne-perched, towering presence of Lana Del Rey the media creation, and there exists a singer of undeniably great talent, whose album is sure to become one of the early biggest sellers of 2012. While I, especially at the start, couldn't stand what Del Rey stood for, or the seemingly endless sticky-ness of her chocolaty vocals, with continued exposure - as we're all bound to face next year - I began to see the positives to be taken from her.
It was with taster track Off to the Races that she finally 'clicked'. With Del Rey finally 'going uptempo' and eschewing her lower tones for a flirty high-pitched vocal line, Off to the Races emphasised what I personally always wanted Del Rey to be - a proper popstar, instead of a dizzying blend of artistic, sexual, mediafied influences. Unlike Born to Die and Video Games, which take eons to unleash their hooks - and only then amidst a baroque soup of sound - Off to the Races is light and airy, and most importantly, fun.
Her cackling cries of 'scarlet harlot!' show Del Rey in touch with 25 year old she actually is, instead of the quasi-goddess like figure she manifests herself as in her previous videos, an untouchable being of perfection. Here, she appears as fundamentally more the 'character', but a character that is innately in touch with herself - and from this, we finally see all aspects of her coming together in the most fitting of unions.
And once the gates are unlocked, a flood of understanding, and ultimately affection for Del Rey comes. It's the subtlety of moments like the delicately plucked harp strings or slow trickle of icy static-like synths in Video Games. Looking past the veneer and the hype, there's a great artist there.
Born To Die, the album, is released on the 30th January and can be pre-ordered on Amazon here.
Thursday, 29 December 2011
When you're soundtracking a dark gothy movie like Underworld (the forth instalment of which - Awakening - is out in cinemas in January), the likes of Linkin Park, The Cure and Evanescence seem like obvious shoe-ins. They certainly play to the tastes of what you might imagine the target audience to be.
Of particular interest is the Renholder Remix of Linkin Park's Blackout - easily one of the standout tracks from their A Thousand Suns album. As the band work on its follow-up, this remix serves as a tantalising offering to tide us fans over until new material proper arrives.
The original version of Blackout was Linkin Park at both their most epic and sonically adventurous - while all the time still maintaining their vital commercial sensibilities, those hooks that have kept fans coming back for more again and again.
Renholder himself (AKA Danny Lohner) has worked with rock royalty himself in the form of Trent Reznor, so we can hopefully expect something suitably industrial and amazing. His previous work with the Underworld franchise encompassed pulsing, low-slung basslines throbbing with darkly sexual rhythms and synthetic power.
With Linkin Park previously covering NIN classic Wish, this new remix of Blackout represents another coming together (of sorts) of the bands' collective legacies and one we're definitely down for.
The full Underworld: Awakening soundtrack is as follows:
Evanescence - 'Made of Stone' (Renholder Remix)
Lacey Sturm - 'Heavy Prey'
Linkin Park - 'Blackout' (Renholder Remix)
The Cure - 'Apart' (Renholder Remix)
Stella Katsoudas - 'Killer & a Queen'
Ministry - 'Watch Yourself' (Renholder Remix)
Lacuna Coil - 'Trip The Darkness' (Ben Weinman Remix)
The Naked and Famous - 'Young Blood' (Renholder Remix)
Black Light Burns - 'It Rapes All In Its Path'
William Control - 'The Posthumous Letter'
Civil Twilights - 'How I'm I Supposed To Die'
& Sons - 'Consolation Prize'
8MM - 'Liar'
Ryan T. Hope - 'You Won't See the Light'
Combichrist - 'Bottle of Pain'
Collide - 'Intruder'
Justin Lassen feat. Silent Fury - 'Exit Wounds' (Justin Lassen Remix)
Like a slow African sunset on the longest, most languidly humid of days in late summer, the Southern Shores mix of Wintercoats' Forest of Lovers is a track that feels innately in touch with nature. For both acts (signed to Chad Valley label Cascine), it's a moment of both mutual beneft and mutual beauty.
From its slowly tumbling rhythms to the ebb and flow of the vocal samples it seems a thing possessed of its own spirit, beyond that of the band itself. Or perhaps both band and song are wrapped up within an ever revolving dimension apart from the world, from which songs as sumptuous as this spring forth ready made.
As a free download, the remix presents an even more attractive proposition, but even without this added incentive, its nectar-laden bliss is wonderfully evident. Love, ecstasy, rapture, joy - all are to be found in this song; a real surprise treat to warm the cockles on a cold winter night and feed dreams of the warmth of seasons to come.
Wintercoats - Forest of Lovers (Southern Shores Remix) by CASCINE
Last month we featured up and coming electro-poppers Kovak on the blog, and if their assortment of fizzy synth gems haven't already won you over, we reckon their brilliant new track Radiate certainly well.
Coming on like a refined distillation of Gary Numan and everything else brilliant about the 80s, it brings the glories of electronic past into the shining prospects of sci-fi future.
Radiate not only packs the band's most irresistible chorus to date - all Goldfrapp-esque sultry vocals - but it also stands as a statement of a new, slickly refined sound. Radiate is the band at their most streamlined and clinical, and its pop credibility is there for all to see, glittering and shimmering away under the neon lights.
Radiate by OfficialKovak
Wednesday, 28 December 2011
Kelly Rowland can't have been pleased with the performance of her latest album, Here I Am. Despite her massive X Factor, it only managed a meagre chart placing of 43.
And the latest single to be taken from it, Lay It On Me, is as much a non-event as the album itself. It's a perfectly serviceable modern R&P/Pop number, but beyond that, its existence is a whimpering null. It slides without notice alongside its contemporaries and if not for the female vocal, could easily have been a cut from the latest Jason Derulo LP - hell, it even has a lyric about 'rollin solo'.
With its tinny beats and choppy synth rhythms, Lay It On Me is a pleasant enough listen, but it pales in comparison to the dancefloor-domineering power of Commander or the sonically more adventurous chill-out vibes of Keep It Between Us (for my money one of the best songs on the album).
Lay It On Me is released on the 6th February.
Skint & Demoralised is the kind of name that’d lay you in expectation for an album of dreary odes to a broken Britain, as they’re so fond of these days. But while This Sporting Life, the second album from the former Mercury-signed performance poet Matt Abbott, is certainly full of honest depictions of life and its many sins, it never once loses its sense of optimism and cheeky glass-half-full spirit.
Drawing its inspiration from British New Wave cinema of the 60s, much of This Sporting Life sounds like a speculative stab at what the Jam might be like if they were still young twenty somethings carrying on today. There’s touches of more contemporary influences too though, flavours of Libertines in the casual stroll of tuneful shuffling ditties.
At its heart, This Sporting Life is inoffensive indie, but there’s also a surprising degree of pop sensibility to tracks like Hogmany Heroes and All The Rest is Propaganda - a clear awareness of the merits of a good hook.
Tracks like 43 Degrees - ‘I’m sick to death of England...’ - sound like cousins to The Enemy, tales of provincial towns, dreary days and exciting nights. The guitar-work feels vital, keen, alive. Meanwhile, Maria, Full of Grace sounds like a Mardy Bum for 2012, an accented domestic tale possessed of a cheery sense of Northern wit.
As Abbott’s second album, it feels like a considered effort – one enlivened by the knowledge of the industry and life itself. Wisdom comes with age, they say – and This Sporting Life feels like a wise album. It’s street-smart, rough and ready, always knowing with its stories of lives on gritty streets. Voluntary Confinement is a definite mid-LP highlight, working in a lattice of lovely flanged Smiths-esque guitar.
It’s a recapturing of the past, a This Is England style revision of a lost nation, offering one last glimpse at the world we thought we knew. It finds its twin in album closer Lowlife, the best track on the record; a fiery slow-fast combo that affirms the praise levelled at Skint & Demoralised from all corners of the music press.
‘I am a chatty bugger...’ boasts Abbott on The Lonely Hearts of England, and chatty he is indeed – the lyrics throughout the album flow like an engorged river – if anything, Skint & Demoralised is as much the lad everyone wants a pint with down the local as it is a musical project.
Right now, the indie scene is eagerly looking for successors to the Arctic Monkeys’ throne – the Vaccines were almost there, almost the right kind of band to step up and accept the gauntlet. But not quite... Could it be Skint & Demoralised? Maybe, just maybe...
This Sporting Life is released on the 12th March, preceded by the single All The Rest Is Propaganda on the 5th.
With Florence + The Machine, epic-ness is assured. But what I love most about new single No Light No Light is that it sees a welcome return to the more melody driven approach of Florence's debut album.
One of the few criticisms levelled at her Ceremonials album was that at times it felt like Florence on autopilot, hollering away at full-pelt, annihilating any sense of actual 'tune' beneath the vocals. Slabs of vocal talent these new songs without doubt were, but where was the enduring appeal of gems like Dog Days Are Over?
No Light No Light takes the best of approaches, a little bit from all of Florence's most attractive pools of influence - massive church organ, bewitching, semi-baroque soundscapes, a veritable richness of wall-like sound that towers above the listener like the Tower of Bable.
It's an epiphanic experience, and it is here that Florence can truly bring those all-powerful vocals to bear properly. The result, an earth-shatteringly good track that manages to back up every accolade and sales tally Ceremonials has already achieved.
No Light No Light is released on the 16th January.
If there's one thing you can count in the medley of Urban/Dance/Pop scene that represents the current peak of commercial chart-ready style, it's that following trends will usually help you get a chart hit.
And so we turn to the new one from Roll Deep, a track that couldn't sound more like Example if it tried. Of course, hook-laden dance smashes are no stranger to the multi-member collective - both Good Times and Green Light (No. 1 hits in 2010) built their mass appeal on a heady mix of club beats and pumping energy.
But Picture Perfect feels different; still every bit as irresistibly catchy, more streamlined, yet somehow more derivative. Coming as they did at the beginnings of a sea change, Good Times etc. felt like an unbridled cocktail of pop joy - but for all its considerable merits, Picture Perfect feels like it could just have easily been a cut from Example's Playing In The Shadows LP. And when the boundaries blur like that, something always have to give in the track.
But that aside, Picture Perfect is a sufficiently robust chart contender and currently stands as one of the more promising offerings likely to grace the commercial airwaves in early 2012.
Picture Perfect is released on the 23rd January.
With the New Year being a time for budding shoots, fresh starts and hopefully an opportunity to load your new iPod with some fresh tunes, Diagrams could very well be the ticket for you.
Purveying a crisp, clinical brand of quirky synth-pop, Diagrams' new single Tall Buildings is a dizzying number accentuated with some lovely bass hooks and a swirling backdrop of synth effects. It's like a fresh-formed combo of Chromeo and Hot Chip, with some of the pop ingenuity that made Metronomy's The English Riviera such a big hit.
Just like their sobriquet, Diagrams' music is a thing of considered, calculated intentions - a planned burst-of-pleasure attack on the aural senses.
Tall Buildings is released on the 9th January with the album Black Light following on the 16th.
It's the classic Lana Del Rey method - put a song out with pretty much zero fanfare from herself, but within hours, you could bet your birthday money that the track will have been analysed and dissected and held up as the second coming. It's just the way of the world. And like Lana's previous tracks, new teaser Yayo starts tortuously slowly, only really getting going two minutes or so in.
But whereas Born To Die actually has a good pop melody buried under that chocolaty sea of vocals, Yayo is just the wrong side of sensual artistic spillage. It's like the leftover wash of semi-nothingness that remained after everything else was said and done. As always, there's a real beauty of a song there at the end of the day, but it takes a disproportionate amount of time to dig out, constantly underscored by the vague unsettling-ness of the song's refrain: 'Let me put on a show for you daddy...'
Yayo is Lana's most chilled, ambient track to date - a kind of movie soundtrack-esque track that seems to exist in the spaces between her previous singles. The production, as always, is truly lovely, and in the track's closing outro, it reaches a perfect balance of luxe ecstasy that only Lana seems capable of doing these days.
But as ever, Lana's subtlety is her undoing - in the context of the whole album, a track like Yayo would make absolute sense - but here, after the sexual boldness of Born To Die, it feels like a slow-runner, a third wheel to the all conquering Del Rey juggernaut; albeit, a very pleasant sounding one.
Tuesday, 27 December 2011
I love a good mash-up. I also love those ever-delightful Saturday girls. And in this dizzying, melting pot of a thing we call pop, throwing a bit of everything into the mix can quite often bring about the most surprisingly satisfying of results.
After hearing the Saturdays mash-up mix of their debut single If This Is Love on tour, I've become a little obsessed with tracking down some 'extra' version of it that exists beyond the bootleg live footage recorded by fans on pocket cameras during the live shows.
And so I came to stumble across this little number of YouTube - It's The Saturdays' If This Is Love mixed with Modjo's No. 1 hit Lady from the turn of the Millennium. Quite simply amazing. It's every bit as spacey and disco-tastic as the version they performed on tour, a fitting tune for any New Year rave-up occurring over the coming weeks!
Of course, what needs to happen next is for this mix to be then combined with this one (Moves Like Lady Jagger) for something of universe shattering proportions. When the Saturdays performed their very own mash-up on their On Your Radar tour, it was one of the undoubtedly highlights of the show - the hope now is that, in some format and by some means, the mix gets an official studio release.
(And speaking of the Saturdays, how amazing is the above photo - taken in 2007 before the release of their debut single - though it looks for all of the world like they've taken a trip in the TARDIS back to the mid 90s... Pop at its most colourful and brilliant)
If it ain't broke, don't try and fix it, they say. The new one from DJ Fresh feels like a prime subscriber to the philosophy, with Hot Right Now treading a familiar path to No. 1 single Louder. On the plus side, it feels like more of a 'song' than its predecessor, boasting a larger vocal element, this time courtesy of Rita Ora.
The downsides though are that it not only lacks the instant-grab appeal of Louder's immense hook, but it also feels like a by-the-numbers retread of Louder's DNA. While other dance producers like Nero and Chase & Status have managed to offer a bit of variety from single to single, Hot Right Now feels like an urgeful pushing of second helpings.
But with January one of the prime times for dance tracks to surge up the charts, Hot Right Now could very well sneak its way into the public consciousness as one of the first big hits of 2012 - after all, there's nothing like the appeal of the safe and familiar.
Yasmin - the pop shapeshifter, songstress of mystique. Taken side by side, previous single Finish Line and Light Up The World couldn't be more different. The former was the most precise, clinical of pop records, packing a killer hook. But Light Up The World, a collab with veterans Shy FX and Ms Dynamite feels like an unfortunate step backwards.
The hooks are hidden beneath a heap of dubby bass and reggae stabs - they're in there somewhere, glimmering through in the odd moment, but never is there the proud, open glory of Finish Line.
Ultimately, it depends what you want from Yasmin - Light Up The World is definitively the uber-cool hipster track, the dance-inflected 'experimental' number to thrill the DJs. But those that saw the makings of an icy pop princess in Finish Line and On My Own will be left disappointed.
Light Up The World feels like a trippy lapse back into the smoke-clouded past - a snapshot into shisha houses and squalid 90s concrete'n'denim, chemical worlds of a more laid-bare age. In the here and now, for all its merits, it lacks the precision to truly compete.
(That said, the Freemasons mix is exceptional - a thing of real beauty, and with just the right touch of added clubland 'bite')
Light Up The World is released on the 16th January.
2011 was undoubtedly the year of Jessie J. While it was Adele who sold by far the most, it was really Jessie who far better courted what the year was all about, all the while teasing the public with a number of questionable press interviews and vibrant outfits. And then there was the whole leg-in-a-cast incident. When it came to female-fronted pop, Jessie J was the name on everyone's lips.
And with new single Domino, she, to-a-degree, finally does what we always hoped for when we first heard Do It Like A Dude - putting out a gem of pure up-tempo pop. While the public at large lapped up Jessie's follow-up singles; the inescapable Price Tag and its fellow lilting R&B inflected cousins, many of us always hoped for a return to the unabashed fun and pomp of Jessie's debut.
And while Domino is no classic, it's a refreshing reminder of how good Jessie J can be when she wants to be. Throwing off much of her exagerated vocal inflections, it sees her going for a slickly produced Katy Perry-esque vibe, all shiny pop-rock riffs and carefree choruses.
Most importantly, Jessie actually looks like she's having fun in the video, instead of the tear-stained weep-athon she affected for Who You Are. As a young woman purveying her tunes to a young audience, this is what we want to see - popstars looking hot, having a good time.
Domino is the classic example of simplicity working best - it's not groundbreaking or amazing by any means, but by playing to well established pop tropes, it sees Jessie putting out one of her strongest performances to date, and manifesting another part of what makes her - beneath all the media storm - a thoroughly great modern popstar.
Domino is released on the 27th February.
Brightside, the new single from NYC duo The Knocks, works so well because it exists distinctly in two musical planes.
On one hand is the glorious bounce and vigour of retro 80s sounds - the synthesisers positively drip the neon glow of twenty five years ago. This is the heady world of Club Tropicana and the Reflex, recreated again for another dip of intoxicating pleasure.
And then on the other hand is Brightside's contemporary sheen, slick production to crystalise this as every bit the modern floofiller it is.
A few years ago, the chart and airwaves were awash with joyous, happy club hits like this - but in recent years the trend seems to have been replaced by one for more darkly seductive tracks redolent in the excesses of bass. Brightside twists the dials back to more innocent times, more innocent fun - oh, and it's also simply one of the best club tracks out there going in to 2012.
Brightside is scheduled for a February release.
One Direction, for me, still remain hard to pin down. Sure, their mass appeal to millions of screaming teenage girls is self-evident. But beyond that... what is there? What Makes You Beautiful, for all its generous helpings of cheese, was a great pop record. But follow-up Gotta Be You, stabbing at a kind of Wanted-style maturity - while still managing to chart in the Top 5 - seemed to come and go without much note.
What Makes You Beautiful, despite being every inch the teen boyband song, managed to traverse boundaries. Twenty somethings would dance away to it in clubs like their lives depended on it. With One Direction's album failing to make No. 1, the signs were there that fanbase alone couldn't sustain the band to ever-lasting success; they'd have to work to keep the public buying into them.
And that's where new single One Thing falls down. It's like a twin to What Makes You Beautiful, but one that has been locked away and left to atrophy. In itself, it isn't inherently bad, but everything about it spills out its stumbling attempt to recreate the successes of its predecessor. The same tightly packed guitar riffs and percussion, the same shouty choruses - what worked once simply can't work again when the result is so dull and self-serving. A missed opportunity for the band to expand on their sound.
Now here's something - a Pixie Lott track with real, proper maturity to it. But look who's teaming up with her on the track - Tinchy Stryder. The rapper has been of something of a limbo of late; his latest LP Third Strike was packed with great tracks (in particular the five-minute epic Game Over, featuring a who's who of British rap stars), but commercial success was not to match the critical acclaim.
Instead, the general consensus seems to be that Tinchy has slipped to a lower gear beneath the fresher, newer echelons of UK urban stars: your Tinie Tempahs and Labrinths.
But Bright Lights is exactly the kind of record that highlights why Tinchy remains relevant; if anything, it injects Pixie Lott (who's been dealing with some commercial worries of her own recently) with the kind of purpose and credibility she's been lacking for a long time.
Tuneful piano chords and strings drive a classic Pixie chorus, the kind of indelible melody that ensured that even if you hated the likes of All About Tonight, you eventually succumbed to its impossible charms. Bright Lights feels like an anthem to new horizons, the very best of second chances - and for both these artists, Tinchy and Pixie, it could just be the record to revitalise and refresh.
Bright Lights is released on the 27th February.
We featured Lyracis on the blog last week, and we're liking his stuff so much we've decided to feature him again! This time it's Born 2 Be Free; a fresh, up-beat slice of modern UK rap easily the equal of Speakerphone.
Fans of the likes of N-Dubz and Tinchy Stryder will lap the track up and with its hook-laden chorus, it already sounds like a big radio hit.
Whereas many up-and-coming artists break onto the scene with a loose idea of what they're about, their songs only hinting at what they might later become, Lyracis is all about the here and now. These songs are ready-made potential smashes, the gospel of an artist that is burning hot with ambition.
Lyracis by lyracis
Friday, 23 December 2011
Now this is what I call a great pop single cover. It's from Cher Lloyd's new one Want U Back and she's looking all grown up with a nice new haircut and a cool, colourful t-shirt.
Actually, looking back to Cher's Sticks + Stones album cover (which we loved), her cover art has been pretty spot on for the whole campaign. Like her music, it captures the perfect blend of feistyness and knowing street-smarts that Cher Lloyd is all about.
Looking at a single cover like this, you can start to imagine the popstar of globe-conquering proportions Cher could become in a few album's time; given the write material, that is.
The single version of Want U Back features Astro - that dude off of the US X Factor - and is set for an early 2012 release.
It's funny, you know. Singer-songwriters, that hazy collective sobriquet applied to so many man-and-his-guitar these days, are the kind of people you'd imagine to be all about heart and soul. But these days, and often quite rightly, the genre has come into a fair bit of disrepute for banging out paper thin artists who rest their whole career on one chart-friendly button-pushing number.
Not for Smoove & Turrell though. For starters, they're a duo. But more importantly, their brand of singer-songwritery stuff - highlighted perfectly in new single Gabriel - is possessed of such soul, such genuine quality that you'd forgive mostly everyone else for packing up and going home.
The vocals are rich and sonorous, deep and soulful. Just like the darkness of the night-time set video, this is music for the star-light hours, a stellar performance of a more full-bodied kind of song. The duo have already had exposure on both Football Focus and Strictly Come Dancing, and Radio 2 loved the track so much they playlisted it five weeks before release.
But such acclaim is understandable in the presence of a song of such beauty. Maybe it's the beginnings of a sea-change, but Smoove & Turrell come like a breath of fresh air into a market straining under the weight of pale imitation types. In this instance, Gabriel is the real thing, the genuine article.
Gabriel is available to download on iTunes now.
My lasting impression of Rihanna's Talk That Talk album was of a record that only just managed to paper over its deficiencies with the ample reserves of RiRi's sheer force of personality. The most remarkable thing was not that it was a bad record, because it wasn't - but that Rihanna, simply through *being* Rihanna, could turn something that was such a repetition of past successes into an LP with genuine merit. Despite the lingering sensation that we've heard it all before, Talk That Talk felt undeniably good.
And much can be said of new single You Da One too - its lilting slow-jam rhythms hit a heady mid-point between the cock'sure stride of Rude Boi and the sleek sensuality of What's My Name. It's classic RihannaPop (surely a genre in its own right by now), tapping in to her Bajan side to deliver a more mellow follow-up to balls-to-the-wall rave-athon We Found Love.
The video is pretty perfunctory - it's Rihanna, as always, doing what she does best: singing and looking hot. She gets to show off her new, rather fetching blonde haircut and does a bit of hip thrusting. Oh, and most of the video is in black and white - de'rigeur language these days for 'this is supposed to look a bit arty'.
In terms of Rihanna singles - You Da One falls short; again, not because it's bad, but because she's set the bar so high in the past. But if anything, it stands as proof of the all conquering pop behemoth she has become these days, that precision tooled creation that right now is leaving pretty much every other popstar for dust.
You Da One is released on the 2nd January.
Thursday, 22 December 2011
What you see above might at first just look like the tattered, weather-bleached remains of posters of the kind that are a daily sight to Londoners on their commute every day. But look closer. To a Girls Aloud fan, there's no mistaking what this is.
In one small corner of London, these posters still lie, hanging on despite the ten year assault of the elements. Buy Girls, Bye Boys - it was the slogan that launched the career of one of the most remarkable success stories in pop. That's right, Girls Aloud. Back when they were still fresh from the crucible of Popstars the Rivals, it was these posters which urged the public to buy into them and forsake the second-rate Westlife clones that were One True Voice.
Of course, in hindsight it's easy to say Girls Aloud were the far better group (which of course they were), but looking at these tattered old posters, you realise how different the world would be without Girls Aloud. No Cheryl on the X Factor, no Nicola doing what she does so amazingly. The world would be a sad, bleak place without Girls Aloud.
A lot of things have changed since those hazy days of 2002 - Top of the Pops and Woolworths have both departed from this world, fading away into nothingness. Dubstep 'happened'...
What we see in the picture above is a real pop phenomenon, a real bit of pop history, something which to us music lovers holds as much meaning as some old church relic or rusted piece of metal dug up from the ground. There, on the side of some old North London hospital lies the genesis of a real life Cinderella story; where for five girls, they really did receive everything their dreams promised.
It's a sobering moment.
For the Weeknd's third mixtape, the focus is all on widened horizons and a greater sense of ambition than ever before - it's plain to hear right from the start in the bombast and swagger of Michael Jackson sampling opener D.D.
The Echoes of Silence mixtape, third in the singer's critically acclaimed trilogy, feels all at once more precise yet more loose than the previous two efforts. The electronics are more precise, more melody based, the vocals more wrapped up in a sense of hook and response. The beats verge out more to a position where they lead the track, where previously they curled and smoked in the background.
Montreal feels almost tribal in the way it paints the picture of a foreboding urban jungle. This is the Weeknd pushing himself forward, foisting himself onto the back of sharp, attacking percussion - it's a man eager to prove that even after two stellar bodies of work, the third is still worth the time and investment. Outside continues the worly influences with its oriental wood-block chimes - its these sounds the push the Weeknd envelope, keep the innovation coming on a torrent-like river of slick ingenuity.
It's beautiful and powerful all at once, and where the Weeknd brand was previously all about the lush ambient soundscapes, while these still remain, they're now packing added force, additional power. It's a potent cocktail, and at its very best moments, Echoes of Silence easily matches the sense of wonder and awe we all felt on hearing House of Balloons for the first time.
This tape's lengthy epic, seven minute XO / The Host is the most in line with previous Weeknd material, a trippy synth-driven motorized skyscraper of a track. Where the 'long' Weeknd tracks of the past tended towards sprawling groove moments, dripping in the sweat and haze of sensuality, XO / The Host feels more vital and alive; a sparky, up-beat piece that grows and grows towards a guitar-laced climax. In its latter half, the track positively snarls with bassy feedback, all subdued and submerged like some vast threatening aquatic beast, just waiting to burst from below.
Initiation pumps the feedback into Arabesque rhythms and fuels it with an injection of snap-quick borderline rap. The vocals here are so affected with production effects they become disturbing inhuman, a demonic presence of inconceivable evil. Above all, Echoes of Silence feels like the most dark moment of the trilogy, the enter-stage-left of the piece's villain-antagonist. But if there's a villain here, it's one of the shadowy hitman-assassin kind, a daggers-at-night force who'd rip your guts out without a qualm.
And then comes Same Old Song like a wash of healing remedy, a composed counterpoint to the album's start - clean, medical and intelligent, it pushes the Weeknd brand to the future with its sci-fi city vibes and sleek on-rails pulse. As with everything else here, the sense of pacing is to a staggeringly prescient degree - creating music that doesn't just sound great, but that feels 'just right' is a rare skill, and it's one the Weeknd nails with almost effortless ease.
Piano ballad Next makes for a beautiful highlight to the mixtape's closing moments - for as much as The Weeknd tapes feel like one long extended piece, it's fitting to see tracks like this - which definitively exist as individual songs - also exist. It's on these songs, like Wicked Games from the first tape, that the initiative and creative flair of the Weeknd crystallises in its most complete, individual form. It's here that we see through the constructions of delivery and format, and glimpse the artist at the heart of it all.
What's most remarkable is that in such a short space of time, the Weeknd has created three album-length creations which all contain genuine merit and proper consistency from end to start. There's no odd one out here, no third wheel - every part of the trilogy has its place and position.
While one might argue that what the singer is doing here is just repeating his past successes, working to a formula, the truth is that taken together as one 27 track behemoth, the implication of the songs becomes even clearer. The talent speaks for itself and its a message of intent, a landmark achievement that rests on the confidence of some of the best crafted R&B of recent years.
You can download the Echoes of Silence mixtape for free from The Weeknd's official site here.
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
We all like to dream, to speculate and theorise on the wildest of scenarios where two of our most favoured passions come together in glorious union. A few years ago it happened for me with the brilliant Voyage of the Damned TV special: Doctor Who and Kylie Minogue paired together for an hour of top-notch tele-visual fantasy.
But if there's one dream combo that represents that absolute pinnacle of crossed-fingers and silent whispers of hope, it's that one day, Girls Aloud will be given the opportunity to record a Bond theme song.
It makes a lot of sense. The girls, as has been generally established, will *hopefully* be reforming in 2012 to mark their landmark 10th anniversary. 2012 is also when much anticipated new Bond flick Skyfall is released. Imagine, if you will, the stratospheric levels of media coverage and debate a Girls Aloud/Bond team-up would generate.
That Xenomania would produce the track is a given. They just have to. Look back at past Girls Aloud hits Sound of the Underground or No Good Advice and already the makings of a great Bond theme exist in them in the action-movie twang of surf guitar. These are high-energy pop delicacies, the like of which Girls Aloud and Xenomania could easily create again with added oomph and a healthy dollop of orchestral styling - it'd be epic beyond measure.
Remember the last Bond theme? Yes, that bag'o'shite effort from Alicia Keys and Jack White. Ok, maybe that's being a little unfair (it wasn't all bad), but it was easily one of the worst Bond themes ever, a pale imitation of past glories. We need something rousing and up-tempo, like Chris Cornell's criminally underrated You Know My Name (which soundtracked Daniel Craig debut Casino Royale). Girls Aloud could deliver this. They're definitively British, sexy, stylish, empowered - everything Bond movies are about.
Search the internet and pop forums are already alive with the speculation that a Girls Aloud/Bond theme could actually happen - there's even betting odds on it! My favourite though is Facebook group: Girls Aloud MUST Record the Next James Bond Theme Song - It boasts a passionate mission statement:
Everyone who has heard one second of a Girls Aloud song knows that they are the greatest pop outfit of all time. And yet whenever the Bond producers come around to choosing artists to record their theme songs they choose oddball pairings like Jack White and Alicia Keys (wtf?) or aesthetically parallel artists like Chris Cornell.
If Girls Aloud were allowed to record the theme song to the next - and as yet untitled - Bond theme they would have the first hit Bond song since "Die Another Day" as well as being the perfect merging of mass-produced pop. They need to stop thinking their movies are intellectual stuff for real brainy types and realise that Girls Aloud are the PERFECT FIT for James Bond. Five sexy women singing something filled to the brim with double meanings. LET'S MAKE THIS HAPPEN!
Of course, in reality - this will probably never happen (a nation of pop lovers weep at unrealised dreams) - But maybe somewhere, somewhen, in a parallel universe, a Girls Aloud Bond theme becomes the most awesome of pop realities.
We're all in flutter with Oh My! at the moment because yesterday they delivered their ace cover of Christmas Wrapping, and if that wasn't already enough pop to keep you in good spirits over the festive period, now they've teased their new track Bad Date with this 30 second preview.
Bad Date sounds every bit as fun, flirty and feisty as Dirty Dancer was, but with added rave-factor. Is there any more fitting kiss-off to an ex-lover than 'I can't believe I went out with a dud'? Amazing.
The full track debuts on the 26th December - enough to liven up every Boxing Day we reckon!
Bad Date (Preview) by OhMyOfficial
In the long line of cult club hits that work their way through to the mainstream, you can generally count on a good dose of expletives of increasing your chances of popularity. Hell, it worked for Riverside...
But with Knife Party's track Internet Friends, we reach a whole new level of bonkers pop-culture referencing hilarity. Sample lyric: 'You blocked me on Facebook, now you're going to die'. And all this swiftly followed by a pummelling assault of laseriffic synth overdrive. Amazing.
Internet Friends really does show how much you can achieve with just that generic 'Robot Woman' voice that comes pre-installed on every computer. Here, 'she' delivers such gems as 'I bet you're busy talking to some fucking slut, fucking skank, is she hotter than me?' - And if that doesn't convince you to listen to the song, nothing will.
I'm not sure what I like more about this double A-side, the fact it comes with a cool, quirky comic-book cover illustration, or that its brimming with thoroughly rockin' punk tunes.
Riding on an explosive cocktail of rough and ready guitar licks and saucy track titles (StickyPants Trance is a particular favourite), Dick Venom and his Terrortones blend comic and artistic sensibilities to create a single that seeks to extend itself far beyond its snappy three tracks.
The real joy here is how authentic everything sounds - this is punk, pure and unbridled, as if you were right back there in the 70s moshing away at a Clash gig. From out-there choruses to more restrained verses, the Terrortones keep their guitars sounding suitably meaty at all times, fusing them with full bodied, guttural vocals and manic laughter..
The collection of tracks here are hearty fare for the punk lover, a real gutsy alternative to the often skeletal meanderings of so much contemporary rock.
RockinRollin VampireMan is released on the 27th February.
Currently unsigned, but going by new single Take Me There, you imagine the enigmatically named '14th' won't be for much longer.
Plunging headfirst onto the alcopop-clicked dancefloor, Take Me There's instrumental sounds like something 808 State might have come up with in the early 90s. Then it erupts into a massive Show Me Love style hook - in terms of dance music tropes, it's so simple, but boy does it work.
And over everything, there's those brilliant soulful vocals (courtesy of Tracey Duodo) lending the track its heart and body. This is a club track with substance, a life beyond the blacked-out rooms and neon glow.
A time will inevitably come when people tire of the endless conveyor belt of R&B/dance crossover from the US, and as the cycle of music turns ever on, songs like Take Me There lie in wait to seize the advantage when that day comes.
Take Me There is released on the 6th February.
He's been labelled as 'organic electronic dream music'. It's a prettty good fit. But for Swedish artist Fiktion, his latest creation: 'I en trästuga utan ström med tända stearinljus efter att snöstormen har lagt sig.' (Yes, the title really is that long!), being organic isn't just about sounding good, it's about as creating the most mysterious, involving soundscape impossible.
Straddling a hazy borderline between jazz-esque interludes and swerving synth-pop lines, the six track EP is at once both beautifully simple and impossibly complex. First impressions belay a rich, deep pool of interwoven noise, so intricate and carefully placed in its creation - but where Fiktion creates his real charm is in the melody.
Music of this disparate kind could so easily fall apart in chaotic pieces, yet Fiktion remains stood resolutely in the middle, conducing these assorted elements into a whole. The result? Crystalline guitar playing ringing out like drops of rain on a parched desert landscape, tears in the very fabric of noise. It's beautiful, moving stuff, and all stemming from wordless, expertly crafted electronica.
The EP is available to download on iTunes now.
If you wanted an absolutely banging dub-step remix of your track in 2010 or 2011, Jakwob was your go-to-guy. Previously turning out hot reworks for the likes of Ellie Goulding and Jessie J, you'd often as not here his versions played as the originals on Radio 1 of a Friday night - a sure sign if anything of the enduring popularity of a properly good mix.
But now turning to his own music, Jakwob unleashes Electrify, already given its debut as one of Zane Lowe's 'Hottest Records In The World'. It's a dizzying mix of retro-styled soul-sample vocals and ravey piano stabs, oh, and a delightfully bonkers music-box-esque ditty. But right at its heart, where it really matters, a massive steely slab of solid dub-step grounding.
Head out to the clubs in the dawning of what I like to call 'Olympic year', odds are you'll be hearing this.
When looking for ones to watch in the coming year, a general rule of thumb is to cast your eye over who did well in the year just coming to a close. Katy B ended becoming one of 2011's biggest, most universally acclaimed artists, so it was only to be expected that record labels would be clamouring to nab a new, similar artist.
Signed to Island we have Jess Mills, a photogenic beauty whose brand of dark, ethereal dance-pop sounds like the most wonderful and colour-imbued of dreams. The chorus of new single Pixelated People jerks and sparks across the speakers like an offshoot of lightning, low-fi synth rhythms bursting into existence and blossoming outwards like flowers.
Pixelated People feels effortlessly cool - even the title tells of a knowing engagement with social tropes and the digital trends of today. This is clever, powerful pop, all unleashed to a cracking beat.
As the track fades away on its hotbed of grumbling bass and star-light electronics, the lasting impression is an overwhelming eagerness for more. Pixelated People - a tantalising appetiser of what's to come in 2012 from Jess Mills.
Pixelated People is released on the 12th February.
Tuesday, 20 December 2011
Her track Nothing Compares 2 U remains one of the most enduring songs of the 90s, but beyond that, Sinead O'Connor's affair with the UK charts has been rather hit and miss. Indeed, she hasn't had an album breach the top 20 since 1994.
But going by the quality of her new LP How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? all that could be set to change. Standout track 4th And Vine is an out of nowhere jaw-dropping pop moment, of the kind you'd have not thought possible from the outre, introspective Irish singer. It's bold, confident, and riding on a southern-tinged bluesy guitar hook, it's a joyous celebration of her 25 years in the music business.
And for all 4th And Vine's sun-spilled happiness, Take Off Your Shoes is bleakly dark, but in the most gloriously beautiful way. Those that loved O'Connor's brilliant Ian Brown collab Illegal Attacks will adore the teeth-clenched stab to the heart bitterness of her vocals here - it's music to soundtrack the most evil of nights, a furious storm of unleashed emotions and black-wrought power.
The album How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? is released on the 20th February.
You can catch Sinead live at the following dates:
9th March Brighton St Georges Church
10th March London Queen Elizabeth Hall
12th March Bristol St.Georges Hall
14th March Glasgow Oran Mor
15th March Manchester Manchester Cathedral
2 new songs by sineadoconnor
If you'd have asked someone a few years ago if they'd ever have thought Will Young would re-invent himself as an angelic synth-pop artist, you'd probably have been greeted with silence.
But that's exactly what Will managed to achieve this year, and it's resulted not only in some of the best material of his career, but some of the best pop music around at the moment.
Where previous singles Jealousy and Come On felt futuristic and reflective, new track Losing Myself has its feet set firmly in the 80s. The production is pure bliss and Will's soulful vocals suit it perfectly. This could easily be something off a late 80s George Michael album, but imbued with all the maturity and electronic glory of something New Order or Depeche Mode would have been proud to call their own.
Some people dismiss electronic music as cold and dispassionate, but Losing Myself is wrapped up in such warmth, such delicacy and nuance of emotion that it packs the intensity of any hard-wrought campfire ballad. As 2011 turns into 2012, Will Young has proven yet again he stands as an artist of continuing relevancy and one of the prime examples that reality TV prodigies can be forces for good in music.
Losing Myself is released on the 19th March.
The ever lovely Kelly Clarkson's last single Mr. Know It All was a bit of a hit-in-disguise, a subtle grower that bloomed from small, innocuous beginnings into an all out uber-hit. For me, it was her X Factor performance that really crystallised what a great song it really was.
But new single Stronger is all about the instant appeal - it's an all-out up-tempo pop-rock stormer straight out of the Since U Been Gone mold; it's Kelly on fine form, doing what she's always done best. With a good drenching of synths and an empowering 'GirlPower!' chorus (surely mandatory for any big female star's latest hit single these days, right?)
Basically, it's a brilliant pop song. And Kelly looks great in the video too.
Stronger is released on the 6th February.
We totally love Oh My! and we love Christmas songs too (who doesn't!?) - so when it came to the girls choosing a Xmas hit to cover, it could only be Christmas Wrapping. After all, the gutsy female feistyness of the original translates perfectly to what the Oh My! girls are all about.
With a hilarious Netto reference, this ranks right up with the girls' ace cover of the Saturdays' Higher - we're just wondering what track the girls will rework next to make it a hat-trick?
You can download Oh My!'s cover of Christmas Wrapping for free here.
Etta Bond - You'll definitely have heard her; she's the guest vocalist on Wretch 32's brilliant new single Forgiveness. We reckon she's one of the most exciting up and coming singers in the UK right now and having just signed a deal with Labrinth's record label Odd Child, you can count on her making waves in the urban scene in 2012.
For those lured in by the haunting purity and ethereal clarity of Bond's vocals on the Wretch 32 collab, her own material offers more of the same - dark, industrial, pumping constructions of quasi-gothic proportions. It's a heady mix of dance influences and slick, soulful vocals.
Every Dream strikes down to the core of what Etta Bond is all about, her at her very darkest. The beats pierce malevolently into the conscience, all metallic and glistening with the prospect of danger. Every Dream is built on the tantalising counterpoint between the softness of Bond's vocals and the harshness of the music itself. The contrast works a treat.
Ask Me To Stay launches up from shadowy lair on dub-step springs, slapping a flithy bassline across the song's foundations - it's a floorfiller of a scale easily comparable to the stuff currently doing the rounds on the UK club circuit.
And therein lies Bond's real charm, she can do it all: catchy but innovative pop tune, she's on it. Commercial club banger, she's got it sorted. For the girl of many talents, any sound is a new adventure, a new avenue to explore.
Ask Me To Stay and third track - Katy B-esque Come Over - were produced alongside DaVinChe, who Bond is working with on her forthcoming debut album. Going by the sounds of these tracks, it looks set to be one of the most adventurous, engaging urban-pop debuts of 2012. We can't wait to hear more! And if you can't wait, there's a great interview with her on MTV's website to get stuck into in the meantime.
Latest tracks by Etta Bond