Friday, March 27, 2015

Christ, this Rihanna song's a bit of a mess

Rihanna recently told MTV she was making an album that "felt real, that felt soulful, that felt forever".

"I wanted songs that I could perform in fifteen years," she continued, "not any songs that were burnt out".

So how on earth have we ended up with this? Bitch Better Have My Money is a ropey old diss track, with all the keyboards on default settings and some of the most inane lyrics of Rihanna's career. And that's say something for the woman who brought Cockiness (I Love It).

The song's only saving grace is that it takes it's title from a depressingly misogynistic 1992 rap song ("pussy ain't nothing but a game to me") and turns it into an anthem of female empowerment. Or Rihanna empowerment, to be more precise.

Produced by Deputy and Kanye West - who could also do better - you can stream it below.

Bitches who have money can buy Bitch Better Have My Money by visiting iTunes now.

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Lion Babe have got their marketing sorted

There's a theory in animation that every successful character has a unique silhouette. Mickey Mouse isn't a mouse who wears red shorts. Our brain remembers him as a circle with two smaller circles on top. Dress him in any clothes or colours you like, but you would never mistake him for anyone else.

With that in mind, Lion Babe are going to be the most recognisable band in the world. Just look at singer Jillian Harvey's silhouette.

The picture is a screengrab from the band's Pharrell-produced new video, Wonder Woman. It's a minor entry in Pharrell's discography - like a sedated version of Beyonce's Work It Out - but as the lead track from an EP preceding the band's "proper" launch, it is very serviceable indeed.

Lion Babe - Wonder Woman

By the way, if you really want to test the cartoon silhoutte theory, here's a brilliant quiz I've hijacked from the Creative Juices blog. Can you name all 36 characters? (Click to enlarge).

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

James Bay: Let It Go

James Bay's new single is, disappointingly, not a cover of the song from Frozen. Instead, it's a gently strummed "maybe its best if we go back to being friends" sadballad.

It is also a big favourite of Taylor Swift, who accosted James Bay backstage at a Hozier concert to quiz him on the song last year. He told me this anecdote at great length last December when I interviewed him for the BBC's Sound of 2015 list. Here's the transcript.

"I'd just been around America supporting Hozier and she [Taylor] had come to see him – because I believe she knows him. Her entourage was bringing her backstage to meet him but he was going on stage for the encore. My dressing room at this venue was the hallway, so we stepped back as she came by but she stopped and said, 'are you James Bay?'. Obviously I was like, 'well, yeah' but thinking 'how would you even know?'

"And she sort of went into this whole thing about how she has a regular playlist she listens to, and she's got a couple of my songs on there. So my song, Let It Go, she was dissecting the lyrics in front of me. Telling me about her favourite lines in the verses. People usually only know the chorus, but she was reciting the lyrics. It was bizarre.

"But she seems to have carried on listening and she’s obviously an enormous pop star, so it’s a really amazing bit of appreciation. I guess it’s not the norm, but some crazy stuff seems to go on in this music business."

Yes, James. The music industry is crazy. All these people listening to other people's music. Oh, unknowable universe.

Next you'll be telling us Bono owns a guitar! And Beyonce sleeps in a double bed with Jay-Z! And Ellie Goulding once borrowed a sweater from her sister without asking but her sister said it was ok anyway! Mental.

Anyway, here's the video.

James Bay - Let It Go

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Brandon Flowers is back and nine other songs you may have missed

So many good songs, so little time to write a blog. That's what the semi-regular "songs you may have missed" feature is all about...

In the words of Will Smith: "Here we go, here we go, here we here we go, yo."

1) Brandon Flowers - Can't Deny My Love
Working with Haim producer Ariel Rechtshaid, Brandon has produced a single that could have come from the soundtrack to St Elmo's Fire or Top Gun. It's that good.

2) Ed Sheeran and Rudimental - Bloodstream
In which Ray Liotta plays the washed-up frontman of hair metal band Black Glove (a nod to Spinal Tap's Smell The Glove?) He stumbles around his mansion, shooting bottles with a rifle, jumping off balconies and getting rather too friendly with his horse. It sounds more fun than it looks, unfortunately.

3) Charli XCX - Famous
Like Ed's video above, this was created for the YouTube Music Awards - which is odd, as it viciously rips into selfie-obsessed internet culture.

It starts innocently enough, with a Charli XCX wannabe dancing to Famous in her bedroom. But when her battery dies, she gets sucked into a nightmarish netherworld populated by grotesque, faded pop stars (including a scabbed-up version of Charli herself) all preening and posing into their phones.

It's like an episode of Black Mirror with a really perky soundtrack..

4) Florence + The Machine - St Jude
Florence's last video culminated with the singer crawling through the broken glass and twisted metal of a car wreck. This picks up the narrative, with Florence walking through the afterlife.

Musically, this is a much more subdued, hymnal track than we're used to from Ms Welch. I kind of prefer it to the empty bluster of the first single, What Kind Of Man.

5) Teleman - Strange Combinations
Teleman are a London three-piece that formed out of the ashes of indie band Pete and the Pirates, but don't hold that against them.
This song - recorded in one day as part of the Speedy Wunderground series, sounds like Alt-J have been eaten by Kraftwerk. It even has (what sounds like) a stylophone solo.

You can pre-order it on vinyl if that is your "scene".

6) Marian Hill - Lips / Wasted
This came via recommendation from Heat Radio's head honcho Talia Kraines, who saw the band at SXSW - a festival I am either too uncool or too nerdy to attend.

The upstart Philadelphia duo make the kind of twisted, harmonic R&B that made AlunaGeorge so exciting three years ago. I'm not sure these songs, from the band's new Sway EP, have a similar chart potential but they make a great listen.

7) Nero - The Thrill
When was dubstep the big new thing? Three years ago? Four? Now that every song incorporates its one signature sound ("wub-wub") that it was once fresh enough to be considered a genre of its own.

Anyway, here are prime wub-wub exponents Nero, who have wisely gone for an expansive, festival-friendly breakbeat banger to announce their comeback. Rave klaxons at the ready...

8) Shamir - Call It Off
Shamir's daffy On The Regular rightly earned him places on the various "Sound of 2015" polls at the start of the year. But I was intrigued to see how he'd follow it up... It was one of those records that was so unique, so individual that it whiffed of being a one-off.

Well, the whiff was wrong. Shamir's new single much less self-concious and a little more straightforward, without shedding the androgynous originality of his previous work. He also gets turned into a puppet for the video, for which he earns 10 extra points.

9) Rhodes - Turning Back Around
Because what the music industry is lacking right now is an earnest young man singing about his feelings.

Still, if that sort of thing is your bag, this is a really high-quality bag.

10) Sinkane - Young Trouble
I'd never really paid much attention to Sinkane - now on his third album - until this supple reggae track turned up on the 6 Music Playlist last week. Although it sits right in that Bob Marley groove, it also incorporates pedal steel guitar from Jonny Lam, making it sound fresh and dusty at the same time.

Very likeable and immensely listenable... I've just ordered his album.

And that's your lot for this week. Hope you found one new favourite in there.

As ever, send any tips to the email at the bottom of the screen, or track me down on Twitter.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

What's Pharrell up to this week?

It's been a week of ups and downs for pop music's very own Mr Hat, Pharrell Williams.

On one hand, he lost £4m to Marvin Gaye's family for stealing inadvertently borrowing portions of Got To Give It Up for Robin Thicke's sex pest anthem Blurred Lines. On the other, he was named fashion icon of the year by the clunkily-named Council of Fashion Designers America.

He also found time to make some new music, producing the new single by Snoop Dogg (who has given up being a reggae artist, apparently) and a shape-shifting EP by New York duo Lion Babe.

You can hear the results below.

They sound, as you might expect, like Pharrell produced them.

Snoop Dogg ft Charlie Wilson - Peaches and Cream

Lion Babe - Wonder Woman

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lucy Rose's new video is... er, unique

Wan songstress Lucy Rose got her break singing for Bombay Bicycle Club - so it's hardly a surprise that her own music is a politely-strummed take on indie electronica. That's not a criticism. There's always room for crafted-and-catchy but undemanding melodies on a Sunday afternoon at Discopop Towers.

In any case, Fearne Cotton's declared herself a Lucy Rose fan, so you're probably not going to escape it just yet.

Rose has just released her new video, and her new video is brilliant - if decidedly odd. Our Eyes sees the 25-year-old Warwickshire singer wearing an outfit made from sausages and dog biscuits, then being set upon by two Alsatians. She also wears a suit made of chips while surrounded by seagulls and an outfit made of grass near some Shetland ponies.

It's either a work of genius or the most disturbing fetish video of the year.

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