Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Delilah - 2 - 4am mixtape

When songs come along that sweep you away with their brilliance, you become properly emotionally invested in them. Delilah’s Love You So was one of those songs; a haunting, baroquely elegant slice of spook-pop that felt like the ushering in of a genuine big talent for 2012 – but come release day, it went criminally un-noticed despite a gushing plethora of positive reviews, failing to crack the UK Top 40.
But for those craving more Delilah, more of that soul-tugging enchantment, new mixtape 2 - 4am offers a wealth of delights.  Like the early hours it labels itself with, the tape plays out the mystique of twilight moments, delving down into the squelching, darkly seductive stickyness of dubstep number Closer. The tape feels ritualistic in its pounding, hypnotic rhythms – stuff that plies right into the soul, whispering the blackest of magic to placate the emotions.
Love You So, with its Eastern tinged string melodies still sounds incredible, presented here in crisp garage remix format. The Gospel offers more of the same, a piano accented slice of thrilling neo-noir  – like a James Bond theme fuelled by pure paranoia, it slides R&B up against urban pop in the most electric of unions.
The raw vocal power of an Adele, the on-trend street-smart understanding of a Katy B, Delilah has it all going on, and 2 - 4am, it has to be said, feels almost too good to be merely a free download. For a budding new pop artist, it stands as a thrilling, richly textured debut, and the UK would do well to heed Delilah’s talent – there’s a real star in the making there.
Download the 2 – 4am mixtape for free from Delilah’s official site.

Erasure - A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot

When I first listened to Erasure's Tomorrow's World album, A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot was the track that instantly stood out, a full-on dance banger as glamtastic as any of their past greats. It also felt like the song most thoroughly representative of the working relationship between the duo and Frankmusik - a glossy, intensely modern take on Erasure's synth-pop, remodelling them into a heavily produced, more digital-sounding outfit.

For me, part of Erasure's enduring appeal has been the slightly rubbery nature of their largely analogue tracks, but as a standalone piece, A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot and its parent album by extension represent an exciting, contemporary evolution of Erasure. A sort of Transformers 3D switch-up for them then. And here, the formula undoubtedly works - A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot is everything you want from an up-tempo Erasure club-stormer. Friday nights out on the town pumped through the synth-pop machine; letting loose in careless abandon of love and, well... love.

The Maccabees - Feel To Follow

I’ll confess – I used to not like the Maccabees. Back in the day, they seemed - to a younger, more naive version of myself – to represent everything I hated about the ‘indie’ scene. But fast-forward a few years and they’ve turned out one of the best albums of 2012 so far. What’s changed? Well, to start with, Given To The Wild felt like a massive evolution of their sound, a real pushing of the envelope from a group bringing real ideas to the table, backed by the talent to make those ideas manifest themselves.
And so to Feel To Follow, which acts as a stunning summary of all the album’s best moments. Euphoric, melancholy, but with a streak of uplifting beauty at its heart, the track takes Orlando Weeks’ crooning vocals and wraps them in a cloak of shimmering wonder. Those deep, resonant piano chords ringing out over the slow hum of strings, dissolving away into a sea of twinkling, reverb-laden guitar. It’s music of the stars, the grass, the frost on cold mornings – all of nature’s wildness and awe given voice.
Feel To Follow is released on the 19th March.

BIGkids – Drum In Your Chest

Breathless raps and scratchy, twitching beats are the order of the day with BIGkids’ impressive debut Drum In Your Chest. The Camden duo – which sound a bit like a grown-up Rizzle Kicks – burst with frenetic energy that paints a re-invigorated, surreal take on British rap. Sonically adventurous yet radio-friendly to the extreme, the track even finds time to indulge in a brilliant synth-poppy middle-eight. Their booze, fag and Burger King hats single cover is quite something too. The duo are lined up to support Panic At The Disco on the 2nd February with further live dates later in the month.
Drum In Your Chest is released on March 4th.

Blood Orange – Forget It

Pulsing shuffly stuff from Dev Hynes (him off of Test Icicles and Lightspeed Champion), Forget It is tuneful indie at its most quaintly charming. Tapping into those on-trend rhythms that Foster The People have put to such mass appeal, the Blood Orange project is teasingly eclectic, throwing in a needling guitar solo in halfway through the track. Striking just the right equilibrium between art and pop, Hynes vocals float delicately over the backbeat, hummingbird-like in their deft poise – perfect for those Field Day Festival audiences which they’ll no doubt be charming later this year in Victoria Park. And they’ll be warming up for the festival with support slots for Florence & The Machine in the US and Australia – a busy 2012 in the works then!
Forget It is released on the 12th March.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Young Guns - Bones

Following on from 2010 debut All Our Kings Are Dead, Young Guns continue with the morbid sobriquets on Bones, a steely summary of granite-like stoicism. Whether it be the intensely compressed, gritty wall of sound guitars that ring-fence the album or the big ‘hell yeah!’ choruses that beat at its heart, Bones is the kind of record to tug rock music to its feet and keep it soldiering on. Both Dearly Departed and the title track boast standout hooks, cutting across with viper-like accuracy. Brutal, anthemic, scimitar-sharp; the LP seems less crafted in a studio than beaten out raw from a blacksmith’s forge. Far more than mere bones, the Young Guns’ effort is coursing with the blood and muscle of upstart passion.
Download: Dearly Departed / Bones / Learn My Lesson
Bones is released on the 6th February.

Caro Emerald - Dr Wanna Do

Six singles into her album campaign and Caro Emerald’s still going strong. The Dutch starlet dips once again into the big-band fun for strutting swing-beat Dr Wanna Do – it’s all flirty sauciness and kiss-me-quick tongue in cheek fooling, but as ever delivered with such energy and pizzazz you’re left craving for another shot. Charming the nation with a sumptuous performance on Jools Holland’s ever-entertaining Hootenanny, Caro’s coquettish charm comes on like Adele on pro-plus and conjures up imagery of decadent parties in the roaring 20s. It’s a place we’d just love to visit...
Dr Wanna Do is released on the 26th March.

Lamb of God - Resolution

If Lamb of God’s sixth studio effort Resolution is characterised by anything, it’s sheer technical capability. Tracks like Ghost Walking mount a devastating assault on the listener replete with rapid-fire drum salvos and guitar sharp enough to shred bone. Resolution is a full bodied, meaty slab of rock virtuosity if ever there was one and the American groove metalists punch this truth home again and again. Cracking out the guitar solos on To The End and pledging to ‘save the devil’s soul’, the record reaches its evil-tainted climax on the malevolently hissing sprawl of King Me. Blackly sinister in the most loquacious of senses, Resolution’s dark side is its greatest asset, a thrilling journey into the heart of metal’s deepest bowels.
Download: King Me / Ghost Walking / To The End

The Chambermaids - Whirlpool

Capturing the sounds of mid 90s Brit-rock and melancholic shoegaze all in one intoxicating blend, The Chambermaids new single Whirlpool aims for good ‘ol fashioned authenticity – and achieves it. In its plunging, flanged guitar lines it builds a swirling, tapestry of a soundscape; the kind of thing you want to plunge headfirst into.
Last year The Horrors took their gloom-pop revivalism to brilliantly impressive heights, and The Chambermaids mine the same deep vein of past British greats to resurrect a sound of grey-washed city streets and 90s denim. It’s haunting, dream-like stuff – and even better, Whirlpool is available as a free download from the band’s website: http://chambermaids.bandcamp.com/track/whirlpool

Evening Chorus - Acorn EP

Huw Stevens’ championed newcomers Evening Chorus tap neatly into the current affectation for all things whimsical and folky, turning out new EP Acorn that feels like a natural companion to Dry The River’s forthcoming debut effort.
Blue Stone Heart is tender, sweet – an organic opening to an EP that sounds profusely organic. Four Corners ups the pace, a rollicking, rambling ditty of a track that leans closer to Mumford & Sons with its big, hearty verses. Only five tracks long it might be, but Evening Chorus’ Acorn EP is a real meal of an EP, richly fulfilling beyond its short running time.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Marcus Collins - Seven Nation Army

The trouble with Marcus Collins releasing a cover version as his debut single is that it proves nothing. Having dazzled on the X Factor show itself, his jazzed up take on the White Stripes' Seven Nation Army is reduced to something all too predictable.

Unlike Marcus' tacky finale performances which veered dangerously into cabaret cruise-ship territory, Seven Nation Army is thankfully more restrained, more classy - but it does nothing to push the Marcus brand, to show us what more the lad can do. We know he's got a great voice, we know he's got a snazzy sense of style - he showed us all that on the big ol' XF - let's see him deliver with some material of his own now, as Rebecca Ferguson did to sublime effect last year.

As it stands, Seven Nation Army seems to scream 'I wish this was produced by Mark Ronson' while simultaneously shimmying up in an assortment of Janelle Monae's leftovers (admirable though it is that Marcus wants to cover Monae on his debut album, Seven Nation Army proves he's in danger of becoming a poor man's imitation of her).

Marcus undoubtedly has potential - and Seven Nation Army is far from awful. But if he's not careful, he could quite easily end up as the next Leon Jackson or Andy Williams.

The Horrors – Changing The Rain

Of all the qualities that made The Horrors’ Skying by far and away one of the best albums of 2011 was just how well it recaptured the sounds of early 80s post-punk. It was like a magical ship-in-a-bottle preserve of past sounds and aesthetics, re-made for a 21st century audience – and boy did it sound incredible.
New single Changing The Rain captures every aspect of that – from the gloom-soaked, swirling synths and dirge-like guitar of the verses to the sun-burst positivity of the chorus, the song sweeps across an ocean of a soundscape with mind-blowing aptitude. Like The Cure, Joy Division and every other post-punk great compiled into one heady melange of intensity, Changing The Rain is a stunning summary of Skying’s brilliance.
Changing The Rain is released on the 12th March.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Dream On

One of the unavoidable truths of Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds project is that the album sounds a lot like Oasis. Of course, this is a very good thing, as Oasis – it’s agreed – are brilliant. And what’s more, the album sounds like on-form Oasis. It’s Noel’s songwriting talent at its best and in The Death of You And Me, we saw a gleam of everything that marks him out as one of Britain’s most enduring talents.
Dream On, it has to be said though, feels like another retread of the stompy piano format of The Importance of Being Idle. And whereas The Death of You And Me – with its triumphant horn riffs – felt gloriously vital, Noel’s new single feels a little like a perfectly acceptable but overly-safe attempt to re-emulate it. For my money, album opener Everybody’s On The Run would make a far better single – emotional, big singalong chorus, it’s everything we go to Noel’s songwriting for, and it delivers in bulk.
Dream On is released on the 12th March.

Utah Saints Vs. Drumsound & Bassline Smith – What Can You Do For Me

When Utah Saints released their re-worked version of Something Good in 2008, it felt like a fitting tribute to one of the real greats of 90s dance music. The remix was well crafted, respectful and received an insane amount of airplay from Radio 1.
And in a way, the resurrected version of What Can You Do For Me plays to similar aims – it targets the sound of ‘now’ with unerring precision; welding on dub-step wobble-bass left, right and centre. But here, the results feel largely tacky, a rushed over-frenetic burst of clubland commerciality. Current it may be, but this time Utah Saints seem to have fallen prey to the old adage of just too many cooks in the kitchen.
What Can You Do For Me is released on the 27th February

The Ting Tings – Hang It Up

Eager to reassert the fact that they are very much still here, and still going, The Ting Tings’ new single mashes the girl-rap feistiness that made That’s Not My Name so deliriously good with a kind of Beastie Boys punk energy.
The results are a crunching, metallic fist-punch of a record that screams attention, a tantrum-like explosion that both pushes the duo’s sound forward and promises there are greater things to come from them.
Four years since they released their debut We Started Nothing and the musical landscape of the UK has changed vastly, but something in the brat-attitude of Hang It Up hints that The Ting Tings could very easily see a return to the kind of double-platinum success We Started Nothing was gifted with.
The Ting Tings’ new album Sounds of Nowheresville is released on the 27th February.

Ben Howard – The Wolves

A timely re-release of Howard’s single (originally released in June last year), The Wolves is a haunting exploration of the folk-man’s sound – percussive and insistently urgent, it possesses the wild ferality of its namesake.
Building to a series of impassioned latter choruses, Howard laments with a tortured cry ‘We’ve lost faith in the art of love...’ Like a rollicking, rough-hewn painting of the heather-strewn, grey-skied country, Howard’s brand of folk is refreshingly raw, a further statement of the talent that has already pushed his debut album Every Kingdom to the UK Top 10.
The Wolves is released on the 27th February

Flo Rida – Wild Ones (feat. Sia)

In terms of ubiquitous rent-a-rapper stakes, Flo-Rida, Pitbull and T-Pain operate an unholy trinity of chart domination that ensures there’s strong odds on at least one of them ruling the airwaves at any given time. Thumping dance-rap collisions that sound like they’ve been knocked out in about five minutes, you know the score.
Compared to especially offensive recent T Pain single 5 O’Clock (it sounded like auto-tune spunked all over the Lily Allen sample), Flo Rida’s new single Wild Ones is marginally tolerable, chiefly due to the great guest vocal from Sia (also currently featuring on David Guetta’s Titanium). It’s nothing you won’t have heard a thousand times before, but Wild Ones shows that even the roughest of stones can be polished up in the right circumstances.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Katie Melua – Secret Symphony

The riotous thrill-ride of William Orbit produced masterpiece The Flood aside, you generally know what you’re getting with Katie Melua. With Secret Symphony – the singer’s fifth studio effort – Melua treads her traditional baroque path through a collective of melodious acoustic numbers. The record plays things safe – Secret Symphony is as MOR as adult pop comes – but as ever, the sheer elegance and sensuality of Melua’s vocals elevate the tracks out of the samey mire that could easily have affected the record. Indeed, the string-laced virtuosity of Gold In Them Hills and Forgetting All My Troubles reach movie-soundtrack levels of sumptuousness.  Beauty is an oft underrated quality in an album, and in every sense – musically and vocally - Secret Symphony has beauty in abundance.
Download: Gold In Them Hills / Better Than A Dream / Forgetting All My Troubles

Posy Edwards – Cheryl Cole Annual 2012

Following on from Posy Edwards’ previous two compendiums of all things Cheryl-related, the 2012 Annual offers a sparkly pink whistle-stop tour through the life of the nation’s sweetheart. Aside from the perfunctory biography material, there’s an assortment of activities and stuff to keep the kids occupied in here: Cheryl cupcakes, Cheryl manicures, Cheryl sleepovers, even horoscopes – it’s all in here. For hardcore fans of Miss Cole, there’s little you won’t already know but everything’s neatly presented with lots of lovely pictures of the lady herself – the free poster is a nice plus too.

Howler – America Give Up

Surf-pop revivalists Howler seem to be gunning to take up the mantle The Vaccines fulfilled last year – the youthful upstarts the indie scene can pin their hopes on for another twelve months. And based on rowdy debut Give Up America, they give it a fair shot. The hooks are loose, the guitar scratchy, but the pop appeal of Back Of Your Neck and the twee 50s nostalgia of America are undeniably enjoyable. At heart, Give Up America feels like a return to the home-built DIY college rock that spawned The Strokes (Told You So is particularly Casablancas-esque), a record that understands the charms of simple noisy brouhaha – and all in under thirty-five minutes.
Download: Back Of Your Neck / America / Told You Once

Nerina Pallot - All Bets Are Off (We Are The Chatterley​s Mix)

Last year, with Nerina Pallot's Year of the Wolf album on the verge of release, the ever delightful pop songstress turned out a gloriously fizzy synth rework of lead single Put Your Hands Up. And now, ushering in a Deluxe Edition re-release of the album, Nerina steps up to treat her fans to another We Are The Chatterleys mix.

The smooth, balladic tones of All Bets Are Off are transformed into a trembling, sultry alt-electro version; Nerina's vocals as always achieving a level of crisp, soaring delicacy that borders the sublime. Like the wind on the cusp of a budding spring morning, it teases and soothes - the embodiment of flowering British songwriting talent.

The deluxe edition of Year of the Wolf is set for a 30th January release date and will feature three new tracks alongside six cover versions recorded for the BBC:

Crazy In Love [Beyonce cover from Dermot O’Leary]
Rocket Man [Elton John cover from Weekend Wogan]
The Chime Of A City Clock [Nick Drake cover from Jools Holland]
Someone To Watch Over Me [Gershwin song taken from Friday Night Is Music Night]
Life On Mars [David Bowie cover taken from Friday Night Is Music Night]
High & Dry [Radiohead cover taken from In Concert, Abbey Road]

Thursday, 26 January 2012

One Direction - I Should Have Kissed You

When it comes to boy bands, I've always been most partial to The Wanted. With their scruffy northen-ness and variably cheeky tracks, they distil the epitome of 'lad' culture into brilliant pop nuggets.

But One Direction... they're still too young for all that... Or are they? We certainly know Harry Styles can be a right naughty one when he wants to be. But musically speaking, up til now, the 1D boys haven't matched up to the high standards set by The Wanted's material.

But in new b-side I Should Have Kissed You they up the ante, firing on all cylinders as they deliver a gloriously up-tempo stormer of a track. Stabs of energetic guitar, dizzying shots of synthesiser and a chorus of positively euro-pop glory days proportions. It's like the Buggles Video Killed The Radio Star shot into the 21st century on the back of a rocket booster.

At once both echoing pure-pop of the past and standing as a stark move forward for the 1D boys from the quaintly innocent teen-romance musings of What Makes You Beautiful, the b-side shows there's proper potential in the boys yet.

I Should Have Kissed You - definitely the beginnings of something bigger and better for the band.

Benjamin Francis Leftwich - Pictures (GZUS Remix)

He's the folk bloke with a difference - and right now, the supremely talented Benjamin Francis Leftwich is courting some serious success. With a host of rapturous reviews for his debut album Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm and his UK tour set to kick off in February, the singer-songwriter is giving one of the album highlights, Pictures, a full single release.

The original version of the track is a lush, sumptuous number - contrasting gorgeous acoustic melodies with beautifully surreal imagery: 'if you crash a car into your best friend's house'. It's the kind of stuff TV networks lap up to soundtrack the emotional bits at the ends of their TV shows.

The dub-step GZUS remix of the track is something a gem too - those quaking in their boots at the thought of Benjamin's husky tones backed with relentless WUB, WUB needn't worry, this is a far mellower, more clinical affair - a real chill-out experience if ever there was one.

Pictures is released on the 22nd February.

Benjamin Francis Leftwich - Pictures (GZUS Remix) by Dirty Hit

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Look Around

For bands who've been in the game as long as the Chilis have, there's an easy temptation to fall back on your laurels and play to your strengths, putting out track after track that pushes all the boxes while rarely pushing the envelope and exploring new avenues.

And in a way, this comes as both a blessing and curse. New single Look Around marks a step back in the right direction after the cringe-inducing, overly indulgent The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie - but it also plays out like a kind of Chili Peppers box-ticking exercise with every trademark element of their sound neatly slotted in.

Funky guitar and basslines, all there. Nonsensical rap elements, chalk that up on the board too. Oh, and why not chuck in a throwaway 'hustle me bitch and you best beware' lyric too. Look Around is classic Chili Peppers, and it undoubtedly sounds good, but only because it follows so closely in the footsteps of their far greater previous hits - in this instance, the ghost of This Is The Place feels particularly close.

You're left craving the original article, how unashamedly thrilling By The Way sounded when it hit stores back in 2002. Ten years on, the Chilis march resolutely on, but playing catch-up on their own past.

Look Around is released on the 5th March.

[Official Video] Kelly Rowland - Keep It Between Us

Kelly Rowland's Here I Am album felt, on the whole, like a bit of a let down. With the mass exposure afforded her by her duties as X Factor judge, the potential was there for the ex Destiny's Child star to deliver a truly stellar pop record that would be lapped up in its tens of thousands just as Cheryl Cole had done in previous years.

But instead, the album felt largely flat and uninteresting, a playing-over of by-the-numbers R&B/Pop - the kind of stuff the likes of Jason Derulo have built their careers on. And Kelly's better than that, we know she is. But when the album's best track was year-old dance anthem Commander, you knew things weren't going to end well.

But that's not to say the record didn't have its redeeming features, and new single Keep It Between Us was one of the best. A haunting, sensual slow-jam that sees Kelly exploring some more adventurous electronica laced chill-out vibes, the track is a delightful reminder of how good a star of Kelly's calibre can be when she wants to be. Beautiful, luscious, Keep It Between Us makes us want to fall in love with Miss Rowland all over again.

Kelly Rowland - "Keep It Between Us" from Kelly Rowland on Vimeo.

Charlie Simpson - Farmer & His Gun

Charlie Simpson's debut solo effort Young Pilgrim was one of the real surprise treats of last year, an album that offered an artist truly hitting their stride, nestling in to a niche of comforting self-assurance and easy confidence.

And of all its songs, Farmer & His Gun always stood out as the lifeblood beating through the heart of the record. Eschewing big singer-songwritery chorus hooks for a more home-spun tale of country-tinged folk, Simpson's rousing calls to 'never lose your pride' form a passionate cornerstone for what the album stands as.

In its quaint, small-scale Britishness, the track paints an idyllic picture of pastoral England; lap steel and harmonica all wrapped up in a beautifully melodic blend. Authenticism is a word much bandied about when it comes to man-and-his-guitar types, but in Farmer & His Gun, Simpson achieves it in its purest form.

Farmer & His Gun is released on the 26th March.

Talib Kweli announces exclusive UK shows

Over here, he's probably best known in the public consciousness for his 2004 duet with Mary J Blige, I Try, but Brooklyn rapper Talib Kewli is big stuff in the States, having scored four Top 30 albums since 2002.

Following swiftly on from last year's effort Gutter Rainbows, Talib is set to release new album Prisoner of Conscious later this year, a play on his past labelling as a chiefly conscious rapper; one inherently engaged with social issues within his lyrics. The album's lead single Distractions is an engaged, worldly-wise diatribe on contemporary troubles placed to an almost-baroque music-box backdrop - Talib's raps are pushed to the fore, biting in their sincerity.

Lined up to give the new material an airing at the HMV Forum in March as well as a further date in Manchester, Talib will be backed with support from MTV championed Lowkey and YouTube sensation MIC Righteous.

One thing's certainly assured - the duo of gigs collectively represent one of the most talented bringing-together of hip-hop artists you'll see this year, and as AMG rather eloquently put it 'If skills sold, Talib Kweli would have been one of the most commercially successful rappers of his time.'

Tickets for the following dates are available from http://hmvtickets.co.uk/

20th March / London HMV Forum
21st March / Manchester HMV Ritz

Diana Vickers - Boy In Paris

Third time's a hat trick, and the ever lovable Diana Vickers has turned out another winner with new track Boy In Paris. Co-written by David Gamson of Scritti Politti (them of Word Girl fame), Boy In Paris is proper 80s-induced synth-pop fun.

As she regales us with tales of dancing in the dark, the track brims with the classic cutesyness that we've come to expect from Diana. Just like Music To Make The Boys Cry, Boy In Paris is wrapped up in all the headrush of emotions that comes with young love, all delivered with a playful coquetry that recalls early Madonna.

Diana takes to the stage with a duo of live dates in February where you'll be able to catch her doing the new tracks live:

8 Feb – Ruby Lounge, Manchester
9 Feb – Cargo, London

Boy In Paris by Diana Vickers

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Jess Mills - Gabriel

She's one of the brightest new pop talents making waves in 2012, and with the release of her delightfully fizzy single Pixelated People on the horizon (think Katy B crossed with Sunday Girl) things are looking promising indeed for Jess Mills.

Pushing further down the path of enchanting ethereal synth-pop, Jess turns her hands to covering Roy Davis Jr's Gabriel here - the results are a smoothly ambient stream of Balearic bliss. It's slick contemporary pop, the kind of stuff to unite radio airwaves and neon-painted club dancefloor in union - plus, those jazzy horn riffs that pop up halfway through are just divine.

Gabriel features on the Pixelated People digital bundle, available to download from the 29th January.

Jess Mills - Gabriel by Jess Mills

Saint Etienne - Tonight

Amongst those whose eyes glaze over in ecstasy at the mere thought of certain Xenomania productions and other pop delights from the past ten years, Saint Etienne's new single Tonight will come like the embrace of a long lost friend, reunited at last.

In its dizzyingly soothing synth-spiral of electronic bliss the track marks a logical progression from the crystalline Method of Modern Love - it's intensely clever dance-pop; mature, clever, but most importantly possessed of the keen knowledge of what really, really works.

With former Xenomania man Tim Powell himself on production duties, the track shares all the beauty of some glorious Girls Aloud classic or a cut from the Pet Shop Boys stellar Yes album. Add in Sarah Cracknell's characteristically breathy vocals and Tonight sums up everything that make Saint Etienne such an enduringly wonderful part of British pop. A real gem of a track.

Best of all, Tonight is available as a free download from the band's website - a full album is due to follow later this year.

Latest tracks by Saint Etienne

[Official Video] Mastodon - Dry Bone Valley

For a video that technically is just a very artfully manipulated set of still images, Mastodon's Dry Bone Valley is a damn sight more visually arresting than a lot of 'proper' promo clips out there right now.

There's something about the beat-synced rapid-fire onslaught of uber-surreal imagery (skulls, the zodiac, pentagrams etc.) that bores right through your eyes into the very heart of your consciousness. It's like the ultimate in acid trips, locking you in to a state where only you, the video and the song exist - in short, it totally lays claim to your mind for the video's four minute duration.

Matching up to the rollicking intensity of the track itself - one of the definitive highlights from the band's insanely brilliant The Hunter LP - Dry Bone Valley is art, rock and imagery blitzed into a mind-blasting cocktail of sugar-rush proportions. Potent stuff, that's for sure.

Lacuna Coil - Give Me Something More

When it comes to a darkly seductive thrill ride through the heart of atomic-intensity metal, Lacuna Coil are the group you can count on - a bit like the friends you know will always come well supplied with booze to any house party worth its salt.

The band's latest effort Dark Adrenaline lives up to its intoxicatingly chemical title - riotous, rowdy, and at its best, positively swashbuckling in its fist-punch guitar riffs. Aside from a bizarre mistep on an out-of-odds cover of Losing My Religion, the album plays out as a tour-de-force in high-powered contemporary metal. It's slick, driven and remarkably vital for a band six albums into the game.

It is in Give Me Something More that the band truly hit their stride here - Christina Scabbia's vocals are at their most clear, most thoroughly hedonistic, and deliver up a blood-hot middle-eight of brilliant proportions. Dark Adrenaline's obvious sister album would be Evanescence's recent self-titled LP, but on Give Me Something More, Lacuna Coil easily exceed it in sheer hook quality.

Pushing the band's core sound to its most excitingly pleasurable possibilities, it's reassuring that under all that wall-of-sound guitar passion, they can serve a rousing pop chorus.

Dark Adrenaline is available to download from iTunes now.

Mohombi gets interactive!

Mohombi... In Your Head in every sense of the word. He's the guy who's already collab'd with Nicole Scherzinger and worked with always-awesome Lady Gaga producer RedOne, and now he's set his sights on the UK. With his debut release here set for the 5th March, it's a fair bet In Your Head is going to be a firm future No. 1.

But here's something new - ever been enjoying a YouTube video and found your thoughts wandering, eager to do something extra, to engage a little more with the track and the artist? Well now you can! Mohombi has rustled up this rather nifty interactive YouTube video which links through to various mixes of In Your Head.

Take Me Underground, Slow It Down or our personal favourite, Give Me A Floorfiller! - it's basically triple the amount of Mohombi for your money. And then you can go back and listen to the original again, because it's that catchy.

Oh, and anyone that defines their own sound as 'Afro-Viking' wins our vote too.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Dappy feat. Brian May - Rockstar

The UK is in dire need for another properly successful male solo star right now (someone that isn't Ed Sheeran basically). And as far as contenders go, Dappy's current stock is in pretty fine fettle.

Plying more of his singy-rappy thing on new single Rockstar, Dappy follows the foundations he set down with No Regrets pretty closely, but throws guitars into the mix too. Lots of them. Just like No Regrets, it's neither the worst pop track you'll hear this year, or the best, but it breathes success from every pore. Just as Dappy himself exudes a kind of uber-bravado, so too does Rockstar feel like the makings of an easy Number One single.

Serious kudos to him for managing to get Brian May on board though. Clearly even the Queen legend can't resist a bit of Dappy.

Rockstar is released on the 13th February.

Katie Melua - Better Than A Dream

When Katie Melua released her mind-blowing William Orbit collaboration The Flood back in 2010, the prospect of an album eschewing the gentle days of her past for a riotous forty minutes of explorative pop magic seemed all so real. But it never came to pass - The Flood was the exception rather than the rule.

With new single Better Than A Dream, Melua positions herself firmly back within the lulled, beautiful surroundings of acoustic balladry - like hushed ocean waves on a tropical island resort, the pillowed tenderness of the track is interwoven with Melua's knack for keen pop melodies and pretty lyricism: 'I dreamed in colour because I lived in black and white'.

A lullaby-like bossa nova for hazy, thought-filled nights, Better Than A Dream paints an alluring, fantastical portrait of almost tangible other-worlds on the cusp of sleep. And the ever-constant at the heart of the track, the soft sensuality of her vocals, comforting and assuring, delicate and richly textured.

Alongside album opener Gold In Them Hills, Better Than A Dream makes a reassuring opening salvo to Melua's new album, Secret Symphony. Sure, it might lack the unbridled potency of The Flood, but with Melua returned to her usual territory, it sees her more than holding her own.

Better Than A Dream is released on the 12th March, preceded by the album Secret Symphony on the 5th.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Metronomy - Corinne

For all its eclectic hipster trendiness, Metronomy's Mercury nominated The English Riviera didn't half have its blinding all out pop moments. And of those, Corinne is without doubt one of the best - an early Depeche Mode styled jaunt, it positively drips 80s synthpop influences.

With the band at their most playful, Metronomy come loose amidst the ether of the bleep-laden-soundwaves before diving into a rich pool of funky Spandau Ballet guitar riffs - it's deliciously funky, quirky to the point of colour-bursting brilliance, and most importantly, summarises within one song everything that made The English Riviera one of the albums of 2011.

Corinne is released on the 27th February.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Heaven Switch - Trainwreck

If there's one vein of music that really seems to have dropped out of the UK consciousness of late, it's unashamedly cheery American pop rock of the kind you couldn't move for hearing on the radio. Think Phantom Planet, The Fray, but with a little more perk. This is the sound of new-comers The Heaven Switch, and it's nothing if not plastered with indulgent hooks and the kooky cutesyness that in another age would have seen them Number One for weeks.

With acclaim from MTV and US TV networks soundtracking the likes of One Tree Hill with their songs, The Heaven Switch certainly make no attempt to hide their radio-friendliness. Trainwreck (their latest single) and Fault Lines are rousing plucky surges of high school energy, the former tolling the experiences of classic teen movie relationship fare:  'Baby you're a trainwreck, innocent till you break my heart again.'

With the UK's very own pop-rockers McFly on a bit of a breather at the moment and new hotshots like Lawson muscling in to make their own mark on the scene, it'd be nice to see the American bands get another look in - and on that count, The Heaven Switch sound like prime candidates.

The Heaven Switch by SecretServicePublicity

Don Broco announce Four Year Strong support dates

We're thinking back to May time last year. As well as stressing over our exams, we were also very much enjoying Don Broco's brilliant single Beautiful Morning. Packed full of riotous guitar riffs, it was one of the most exhilarating post-hardcore moments of the year - and now the boys are back supporting Four Year Strong on a series of live dates.

Running through January, the tour comes to what's sure to be a triumphant finale at London's Koko - not one to be missed!

The full list of tour dates is as follows:

25-Jan-12           Brighton                Concorde                        
26-Jan-12           Birmingham           HMV Institute                        
27-Jan-12           Leeds                     Met University                        
28-Jan-12           Glasgow                 Garage                        
29-Jan-12           Manchester           Academy 2                        
30-Jan-12           Norwich                 Waterfront                        
31-Jan-12           Portsmouth           Wedgewood Rooms                        
1-Feb-12             London                 Koko

Friday, 20 January 2012

Hint - Aliens Enter feat.T Fly

In a world clamouring for new Universal-signee Azealia Banks, the market is arguably ripe for more of that intoxicating, sonically-adventurous hip-hop. The stuff that breathes the lifeblood of the streets, that strikes home with more than just boasts of wealth and women.

Enter Hint - new single Aliens Enter sees the producer offering up a jangling, bruised slice of raw urban diversity as eclectic and vibrant as the grafitti and bleak, litter-laden avenues that feature in the accompanying video.

With a feisty complement of vocals provided courtesy of T Fly, Aliens Enter is intelligent, engaged and profoundly modern. Tapping directly into the pulse of city-scapes, its ringing, hissing samples and crisp beats paint a hectic snapshot of the information age.

Aliens Enter is released on the 30th January.

JLS - Proud

With One Direction and The Wanted battling it out for the attention of seemingly ever-present screaming hordes of girls, it falls to JLS to continue to prove their relevance on their third LP as the band that in many ways really fuelled the fire of the full-on boyband resurgence. You'd have thought they'd up their game to the max, screw on their thinking caps and bring their very best to the table - but in Proud, what they deliver instead is a hankies-at-the-ready instance of dry commercial sheen.

Proud is an unwarranted step-backwards for JLS, seeing the group regressing back to boy-band balladry of X Factor proportions. The lyrics are bog standard up-and-at-em faux-inspirational stuff and ultimately fall flat: 'When my strength was gone... In my darkest place you are my guide... When you fall down get back up and fight'.

For a group that burst onto the scene as a kind of anti-Westlife, delivering up-tempo pop gems like Beat Again, Proud sees the band straight-jacketed into suits and welded onto stools. Within the context of an album, a song like Proud is just about forgivable - even the greatest of all recent pop acts, Girls Aloud, had their token ballad inclusions - but released as a single, it feels like a waste of the band's potential.

Of course, because the track is for Sport Relief, there's a begrudging allowance that 'oh, it's only for charity' and that the band must play it safe for a good cause - but even compared to other charity singles, this ranks pretty low on the scale.

Proud is released on the 19th March.

Olly Murs - Oh My Goodness

The humerous cocked-eyebrow presumption would be that Oh My Goodness is the kind of thing your average Olly Murs fan might say as they engage in some kind of fictional romantic liason with the X Factor star. Or, alternatively, it could just be a statement of shock at how the bloke has actually managed to come up with a half-decent track.

While Oh My Goodness isn't up there with the electro-popping hook-heaven of Heart Skips A Beat (surely a one-off singularity of brilliance within Olly's career), it's horn-riffing snazzy rhythms recall a Robbie Williams at his prime. It's a harking back to a more innocent age of pop, and unlike the tepid Dance With Me Tonight, actually sounds like Olly's having genuine fun singing the track.

He'll have his haters, and he'll have his lovers - but at the end of the day, Olly's cheeky chappy routine holds at least a fair share of merit to it. The UK needs a big male solo star of his scale - in a market dominated by empowered female stars, there's certainly space for a shot of testosterone now and again - and Oh My Goodness is as good a record as any to do it.

When Olly first stepped up to the X Factor plate, he won the nation over with his cocky bravado-filled performance of Superstition, and here - channelling that same lad-apotheosis - is where he finds his niche.

Oh My Goodness is released on the 12th March.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Enter Shikari - A Flash Flood Of Colour

Last week, there was a general buzz in the air at how the Maccabees very nearly nabbed the No. 1 spot in the album charts - initial mid-week reports laid the groundwork for a guitar band beating off the likes of big pop artists like Adele and Bruno Mars (albeit in the notoriously poorly-selling January weeks).

And while the Maccabees ultimately ended up at a still very respectable No. 4, the situation looks set to repeat itself this week - but in this instance with Enter Shikari taking up the gauntlet.

For the dance-metal melding rock act, it'd be a major coup, but a thoroughly deserving one. A Flash Flood Of Colour is, in short, brilliant - particular highlights include the politically engaged Stalemate and the almost Streets-esque Constellations: all rhymed spoken word tales of being lost in an uncompromising world. Disaster vs. sustainability - the band leave it up for the listener to implement the ambition and drive for success on their own life.

Many albums can attain to sound 'of the time', but it is A Flash Flood Of Colour that truly engages with what our time is about. Cutting through headlines with an almost childlike singularity of mind, the album sees the crystallisation of a band at the peak of their powers - to see the record go No. 1 would be a bite back at arguably anti-Metal institutions like the BRIT / Mercury awards.

And that's not to say what the BRIT and Mercury awards do is wrong - personally I love keeping up to date with them and think they bring a vital sales boost to the industry - but there are certainly specific genres they overtly shy around, in the process ignoring many great albums. Enter Shikari nabbing that No. 1 would be only right for a band that have stuck in there when so many others have folded after disappointing sales of their sophomore effort.

What makes A Flash Flood Of Colour so brilliant though? It's there in the way it folds together stadium-sized hooks with the forefront of the dub-step-metal movement brought so wonderfully to the fore by Korn's Path of Totality last year. Oh, and the album is so definitively British - it could have only been here, made in England, that a band would have the bombacity and innate sense of quirk to title a single Gandhi Mate, Gandhi.

It's here that - alongside Constellations and Stalemate - that the record hits its peak. Passing through its various movements, from manifesto-like spoken-word intro to thumping acidic synth meltdown, from hardcore riff-slamming to the way Rou Reynolds reels off a wild cry of 'yabbadabbadoo' as if its place in a contemporary song is the stuff of everyday occurrence. It's electicism at its very best, concentrated down into one of the best rock LP's of the past twelve months.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Modern Faces - Pravda Scrolls / Cynical Brother

Their YouTube page touts them as 'the resurrection of British Rock n Roll', and to give them their dues, Modern Faces play like a whistle-stop who's-who tour of the Brit-pop glory days. Their debut single Pravda Scrolls is like The Charlatans, Stone Roses and Kasabian all piled into one - a heady mix of lager-fuelled hooks and Madchester glory revitalised for the 21st century.

With Kasabian's commercial success dipping of late and numerous sites tolling the 'death of British guitar music', Modern Faces feel like a genuine shot in the arm for the genre; a group that could genuinely take up the mantel as the next great up-and-coming UK guitar group.

If the band sound like the past, that's not necassarily a bad thing - after all, with the Stone Roses' own resurrection, there's never been a time when the market was more primed for a new band owing so much to them to make a go of it. For a band so steeped in the excesses and rock mythology of Manchester, the irony is that they're actually Scottish.

Having toured with Kasabian, The Charlatans and Shed Seven, they've clearly learned their sound first-hand from their progenitors, but unlike the doomed Viva Brother - who longed so much to be Oasis re-born - Modern Faces have the tunes to back themselves up with. There's real substance in the likes of Pravda Scrolls that speaks of a band with the ability to grow, to craft an album of consistency and serious intent.

There's much to be said for 90s revivalism - just as the last ten years saw so many acts turning to the 80s for inspiration, now the decade of pre-Millenial anticipation rears its head for a second go round. With acts like Modern Faces sating themselves on a diet of British greats, it fair to say some of that original sparkle has rubbed off on them - Pravda Scrolls makes for a confident, ambitious debut.

Pravda Scrolls / Cynical Brother is released on the 9th April.

Seeker Lover Keeper - Even Though I'm A Woman

The notion of the super-ground has something of a varied tapestry of history. More often than not, they end up as creations so profoundly of their time and moment (Yup, here's looking at you Band Aid) that any musical output cannot be separated from the sheer event of the coming together of disparate musical entities.

But in the instance of Seeker Lover Keeper - an assortment of Aussie singer-songwriter types - including the brilliant Sarah Blasko (whose cover of Xanadu we adored), the music seems to speak for itself. In an age when the likes of Ellie Goulding and Birdy resound daily on both radio airwaves and TV ads with delicately breathy innocent piano pop, the gates have been opened wide for further contenders.

Even Though I'm A Woman takes much of its power from its fascinatingly arresting video - through the simple quirk of getting a bloke to mime to a female vocal, Seeker Lover Keeper's track pulls you in; wrapping you up in a spell of woolen blankets and hot chocolate. Every naunce of moment, every hint of body language brings out a richness in the track itself, a whisper of hidden emotion.

It's undoubtedly beautiful, but more than this, it seems fired with hit potential - and with its parent album peaking at 3 in the Australian album charts, it clearly strikes a chord with the public. As the song's revolving piano chords spin on and on, it seems only a matter of time before the collective achieve similar success over here.

Lawson to support The Wanted on upcoming arena tour

They're the boyband with a difference. Looking to follow in the footsteps of teen-girl-ecstasy-inducing groups like The Wanted and One Direction, newcomers Lawson bring a more mature, soulful brand of pop to the table. They not only play their own instruments, but going by tender acoustic number Standing In The Dark, they're a dab hand at emotional tissues-at-the-ready balladry too.

But why have one boyband when you can have two? The Lawson lads will be taking to the road with The Wanted for a tour of such unparallelled boybandery that it might through the Earth out of alignment. Or something like that.

Running through February and March, the arena tour will no doubt be setting teenage hearts a fluttering everywhere - and in the meantime, there's always a free download of Lawson's rather lovely track Red Sky to enjoy.

Catch both sets of boys on the following tour dates!

15 - Nottingham - The Capital FM Arena
17 - Manchester - Arena
18 - Sheffield - Motorpoint Arena
20 - Brighton - Centre
23 - Cardiff - Motorpoint Arena
24 - Liverpool - Echo Arena
25 - Newcastle - Metro Radio Arena
27 - Glasgow - The SECC
28 - Aberdeen - AECC

01 - Birmingham - LG Arena
02 - Bournemouth - International Centre (BIC)
03 - London - The O2 Arena
05 - Brighton - Centre
06 - Bournemouth - International Centre (BIC)
08 - Belfast - Odyssey Arena
09 - Dublin - The O2

Diana Vickers announces new live dates

She's been away for a while, but based on the sublimely good Music To Make Boys Cry, the return of Diana Vickers will be worth every minute of the wait.

Can't wait for her album? Diana will be performing at a number of exclusive live dates in February - not only will you get to hear a taste of her new record, but there'll be all the old faves like Once and The Boy Who Murdered Love in there too.

Speaking of the dates, Diana said:

'I am so excited for these shows - playing live is what it's always been about for me. This new album means so much more to me than anything I've done before, so I just cant wait for my fans to hear the music live. I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve for the show. I'm counting down the days to these shows!'

And we're excited too!

So, if you fancy seeing Diana live, the dates are as follows - tickets can be purchased from http://www.gigsandtours.com/

8 Feb – Ruby Lounge, Manchester
9 Feb – Cargo, London