Thursday, February 4, 2016

Must listen: Eryn Allen Kane - Aviary: Act II

Imagine this. You're a struggling musician posting demos on Soundcloud when one day, out of the blue, Prince gets in touch. He likes your stuff. He wants you to come to Paisley Park. He wants you on his new song. A song that's his personal response to the killing of Freddie Gray. Oh, and he'd like to you perform it on stage with him in Baltimore.

Well, that's what happened to Eryn Allen Kane.

"He [Prince] really wants to see young talented artists thrive," she told Essence. "He tells me to stay true to myself even though my music isn’t the type of music that’s being played on the radio all the time it’s important for people to hear it. He’s like, it’s up to you to be authentic and stay true to who you are at all costs because that is going to give you a long career."

Eryn isn't working with Prince on her solo material - perhaps realising that his obsessive studio etiquette frequently suffocates collaborators - but he would undoubtedly approve of the results. Her new EP, Aviary II, is real soul, with real passion, played by real musicians on real instruments.

The 26-year-old, who once enrolled at the Detroit School of the Arts because Aaliyah went there, wears her influences on her sleeve. You can hear Marvin, Erykah, Mariah and, naturally, Prince in her phrasing and orchestration. And the political overtones are still there on How Many Times - pointedly released on Martin Luther King day - which expresses her frustration at America's cycle of violence: "How many lives do we have to give up?" she asks over a portentous piano phrase.

But the real highlight is her voice - persistently incredible, whether she's angry, lovelorn or full of fiery passion (listen to the last 30 seconds of Honey - it's like Aretha never went away).

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Video: Little Mix - Secret Love Song

It's no secret that I'm a fan of The Mix but Secret Love Song is a bit of a mess. For a start, Jason Derulo is serenading all four members of the band which, apart from being creepy, seems logistically improbable (unless he operates a complicated ticketing system like the fish counter at Sainsbury's).

Even if you put the ickiness to one side, the whole thing is terribly oversung. Jesy sets the tone well with a sorrowful reading of the first line - but by the first chorus everyone is barking like a wounded dog at a shooting range. Sure, emotions must run high when you discover you're part of a love pentangle with Jason Derulo, but the band aren't so much singing about a broken heart as summoning the almighty Thor.

Brilliantly, Jason Derulo then attempts to convey this melodrama through the medium of dance.

It's hilarious. But I'd prefer Little Mix to have released the superior album tracks Get Weird or OMG (which was, coincidentally, sitting atop Billboard's Trending Chart until this morning).

Anyway. Here's the video. It's overblown and ridiculous. And they clearly couldn't get Jason to film his bits at the same time as Little Mix. Maybe he's hiding from them. Or maybe his boss is being funny about the rota on the fish counter.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

New discovery: LeMarquis - Hurricane (ft Alo Lee)

French producer LeMarquis made his name with a series of official (and unofficial) remixes for the likes of Ashanti, Drake and Whitney Houston. My particular favourite is this frothy, disco-funk refix of Phoenix's Fences - which ends up sounding like a lost Daft Punk b-side.

That success of that track brought the 21-year-old to the attention of chic French dance label Kitsuné, who hired him to remix Years & Years's Real (for free, such is the way of the music business). It also turned out quite well.

LeMarquis (he doesn't give his real name) has now dropped out of a masters in Musicology to pursue music full time. Amidst DJing and remix work, he's been stockpiling original tunes, the latest latest of which - Hurricane - is a revelation. Here, the frothy beats have been poured down the sink and replaced by a sticky, murky liquor. British singer Alo Lee provides some suitably stormy vocals - "I never let them see me cry so I look stronger," she sings sotto voce, "you can find me standing in the rain".

"On this one, I tried something a bit slow and different from my usual stuff," says LeMarquis. "When I started to look for a singer Alo came straight in my mind, so I sent her the instrumental and when she came back i was blown away by her “dreamy r’n’b” voice which fits the beat perfectly and creates a great slow and chill atmosphere for the track."

Listen below.

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Monday, February 1, 2016

Video: PJ Harvey - The Wheel

Last week, there was a documentary on Radio 1 asking whether the protest song had died. Well, here's a resounding "NO!" in 72-point neon pink Gill Sans.

The video for PJ Harvey's The Wheel was shot in Kosovo, and the lyrics reference the 28,000 children who went missing during the conflict there.

Director Seamus Murphy explains:

"The song The Wheel has the journey to Kosovo at its centre. Who is to say what else has influenced and informed its creation? The sight of a revolving fairground wheel in Fushe Kosove/Kosovo Polje near the capital Pristina is the concrete reference point for the title. Was that sight alone the inspiration for the song? Without being told the stories of people who had suffered during the war, without visiting villages abandoned through ethnic cleansing and cycles of vengeance, without experiencing the different perceptions of people with shared histories, could the song have been written?

I made a return trip to Kosovo in December 2015, armed this time with the knowledge of how the project had developed. ... The enormous refugee crisis in Europe had been news for months. I spent some time on the Greek and Macedonian borders, and in Serbia, before traveling into Kosovo. It was happening in and through territories associated with recent conflicts in Kosovo and the wider Balkans. The idea of cycles, wheels and repetition once again being all too apparent and necessary to make."

It's a powerful and poignant watch - yet it never prioritises polemic over the music.

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Here's Zayn Malik and he's all grown up

Zany Zayn Malik has thrown off his boyband shackles and he's at pains to let you know. His debut single, Pillow Talk, is a slowbanger about slow banging. "We'll be in bed all day," he sings, "fucking and fighting... It's a paradise and it's a war zone."

The video is suitably explicit - full of thrusting breasts and soft-focus snogging with his current squeeze Gigi Hadid. You can't help but view it through the prism of One Direction's carefree video shenanigans. This represents everything Zayn was told he couldn't do for the last six years, and he's not holding back.

Crucially, it never comes across as petulance. This is the sound of steam escaping from his internal pressure cooker. And Zayn, a man who seems to take himself very seriously, has clearly poured his heart and soul into the song.

And what's it like? Pretty damned good, actually. Textured, sophisticated and seductive, it wouldn't sound out of place on a sex-era Janet album. A solid 8/10.

PS: Zayn's interview with Zane Lowe - live from Bradford football stadium - is a good listen. The bit where he talks about his recently-departed grandmother will bring a tear to your eye. You can hear it on the Apple Music site.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Listen: Massive Attack - Take It There

Rihanna wasn't the only one to emerge from hibernation today. Bristolian hip-hop godfathers Massive Attack also awoke from a six-year slumber with an EP of new material, Ritual Spirit, which features collaborations with Young Fathers, Azekel, Roots Manuva, and Tricky.

Tricky's track also comes with a video, directed by Hiro Murai. Like the song, the droning, guitar-heavy Take It There, it's menacing, intoxicating, unsettling, foreboding... In other words, everything you'd want from a Massive Attack single.

Massive Attack also plan a second EP (co-produced by Daddy G) later this spring, followed by a full album.

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