Friday, April 18, 2014

Songs you may have missed: Easter edition

It's been a pretty busy week on the blog - with excellent new songs from Lana Del Rey, and Sky Ferreira, and OneRepublic and Robyn in the mix. But here are some of the ones I didn't get round to writing about...

1) Clean Bandit - Rather Be (Live on Jools)
This is the first time I've ever seen Clean Bandit in the flesh. There are about 80 of them. Who knew?

2) Iggy Azalea ft Rita Ora - Black Widow
If you haven't latched onto the Iggy Azalea bandwagon so far, this could be the song to turns you around. Like Katy Perry's Dark Horse, it weds a sparse, minor-key verse to a soaring chorus that gets clipped just before you get to the good bit. It's a cruel tease, but it leaves you wanting more every time.

Clever writing, then, and a good trailer for Iggy's debut album, The New Classic, which "drops" (is released) on Monday.

3) Prince - Computer Blue (full version)
The news that Prince has kissed and made up with Warner Bros means my wallet's going to get much, much lighter.

For a start, it means albums like Parade and Sign O The Times will be remastered and re-released (and believe me, they need it - the original CD masters are woefully tinny and quiet). But the deluxe, 30th Anniversary edition of Purple Rain also promises a bunch of rarities from the Vault. Let's hope it includes an official release for this long-cherished, 14-minute bootleg of Computer Blue.

Sadly, that track can't be embedded - so here's Mr Rogers Nelson performing Purple Rain at the Brits instead.

4) Paolo Nutini - Recover
The mumbling Scotsman covers Chvrches, with spine-tingling results.

5) MNEK - Every Little Thing
It's pronounced Em-En-Ee-Kay, and he's the biggest UK pop star you've never heard of.

He wrote Need U (100%) with Duke Dumont. He plays the spoons on Rudimental's Spoons. That was his voice on Gorgon City's Ready For Your Love. Little Mix's Wings? He produced that one. And he's working with Florence + The Machine, too.

Somehow, in the middle of all that productivity, he's been making his own solo record. Every Little Thing is the 100% not bollocks first single.

6) AlunaGeorge - Kaleidoscope Love (Kaytranada Remix)
Montreal DJ/Remixer Kaytranada has taken one of the least-loved tracks on AlunaGeorge's debut album and turned it into a deep, dark house cut. The backing suits Aluna's ethereal vocals so well, it should give the band a hint of where to take their second album.

7) Future ft Andre 3000 - Benz Friendz (Watchutola)
The stand-out track on Future's new album is a two-hander with Outkast's Andre 3000, with both rappers insisting they do not care for a girl and her choice of automotive transport. Andre goes so far as to declare he'd rather ride his bike or walk. God knows why, but this is one the catchiest beats you'll hear all Easter.

8) Lulu James - Beautiful People
21-year-old Lulu James has been bubbling under for a year or so. Born in Tanzania, raised in South Shields, she's Jessie Ware with a harder edge and a voice that'd make Aretha Franklin jealous.

Beautiful People is the first track from her new, as-yet-untitled, EP. It starts quietly but builds and builds until your walls start vibrating. Spellbinding stuff.

9) Culann - All Reverie
I wrote an article for the BBC News site this week on "the return of rock" - based on the fact that, finally, the UK is producing some guitar bands good enough to be played on daytime radio.

Afterwards, I got no end of abuse on Twitter from hardcore rock fans who said I didn't know what I was talking about. Maybe, but the article wasn't targeted at Metal Hammer readers and, to the majority of Radio One and Two listeners, new guitar bands have been pretty thin on the ground for the last few years.

Anyway, the positive result of the piece was that lots of guitar bands sent their videos at me. Here's one I liked, from Scottish five-piece Culann. Singer PJ Kelly's Celtic lilt has a touch of the Biffy Clyros, while his band are clearly accomplished musicians - this single makes a lot of unexpected detours on its way to the chorus without ever descending into fretwanking. (Unsurprisingly, Culann say they're fans of prog bands like Yes and Rush).

The video, meanwhile, stars Rab Affleck, who you might recognise from his hard-man roles in Layer Cake and Gangs of New York.

10) Nas - It Ain't Hard To Tell (Stink Mix)
A parping jazz remix to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Nas's debut album Illmatic. You've got to love a rap song with a flute loop.

11) Pawws - Sugar
"Upsetting disco" says the bio on Pawws Twitter page, and I couldn't have put it better myself.

She's a London-based electro singer, with shades of Little Boots and St Etienne in her sugar-spun 80s pop. The cascading synth lines in her debut single are sweeter than Canderel. Just the thing for Easter.

That's all for this week, then. Happy Festival of the Chocolate Jesus!

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sky Ferreira: I Blame Myself

Despite 94 aborted albums and a career-threatening drug bust, Sky Ferreira is a very good pop star. Her music sounds, as one critic put it, like its been dragged through a hedge backwards. But what a hedge, readers. What. A. Hedge.

Her album Night Time, My Time is dirty and catchy and complex and scuzzy - full of electric guitars and the sort of "I don't give a fuck" attitude that Rihanna pretends to have, while simultaneously recording incredibly mainstream pop records with Calvin Harris. Night Time is by no means perfect, but that increasingly seems like Sky Ferreira's USP.

The standout song is I Blame Myself - a minimal electro track that sees Sky take responsibility for all of her bad habits. "I blame myself for my reputation," she sings, although you're never entirely certain she means it.

The video doesn't clear things up, but it's a damn fine watch. A hat-tip to The Wire and the gangsta rap videos of the 90s, it also features some whip-cracking choreography and (George Michael alert!) a parody of her arrest. Meanwhile, she looks like a young Madonna dressed as Chrissie Hynde singing a Debbie Harry song. Those are some big shoes but on Sky Ferreira they're a snug fit.

You have to watch it on this website until Friday morning. I'll update the blog as soon as the embargo lifts. Until then, here's a rubbish 15 second teaser.

PS: Some people have accused Sky of being racist because all the dancers in this video are black (???). In response, she posted a furious status update Facebook - it's a great read.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What's Ingrid Michaelson been up to, then?

Pop's very own Tina Fey, Ingrid Michaelson, shoved her new album Lights Out onto iTunes last night, and instantly jumped to number 2 in the US chart. Simultaneously, she also uploaded the entire record to YouTube, which is pretty generous for an artist who releases all of her music independently. I say generous. I might mean foolhardy. It's hard to tell.

In the US they categorise Ingrid as "adult contemporary", which is a backhanded way of saying "boring". But that's grossly unfair. She makes smart, literate, catchy pop - and, while she's been guilty of overdoing the ukulele in the past - Lights Out is her most adventurous album to date.

Critics have deployed words like "experimental" and "fierce" and, almost inevitably, "Kate Bush" (she's a woman, you see). And they're not wrong. Everything about this record obliterates the memory of her garishly twee self-help anthem Be OK.

Here's why...

Ingrid tragically lost her voice during the recording process last year. "My whole throat was on fire for a few months," she told The Beacham. "I don't think I've lost part of my voice, but my voice has somewhat changed."

More importantly, the fear of not being able to sing pushed Ingrid's writing down some darker paths. Take, for example, the haunting, spine-tingling Handsome Hands. It's the sound of Bjork singing to us from the afterlife.

Ingrid Michaelson - Lights Out

Also worth a look is the video for lead single, Girls Chase Boys, in which Ingrid takes Robert Palmer's famous(ly sexist) video for Addicted To Love and flips the gender roles. The song's not bad, either.

Ingrid Michaelson - Girls Chase Boys

Lights Out isn't appearing on the UK iTunes yet, but you can order the CD off Amazon today, or just put that YouTube playlist on repeat.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

OneRepublic have a hit on their hands

Love Runs Out, the new single from OneRepublic is a great big swampy gospel stomp with handclaps like thunderbolts.
When I spoke to Ryan Tedder [clang!] last month, he told me he'd laboured over this song for several months:

Love Runs Out was originally going to be the first single on our album (Native, released March last year) but I couldn't crack the chorus. It gutted me because I had it marked on the board as "first single" for six months. Brent Kutzle, who is the cello and bass player in the band, said: "Man, we cannot put this out with an A+ verse and a B+ chorus."

It was completely crushing my ego but I was like: "He's right." The verse was an A and everything else was an A but the chorus was a B. So we tabled it.

A year later, with the whole song elevated to A+ status, Love Runs Out is being added to a repackaged version of Native. It's out today if you're in "the rest of the world" or at an unspecified future date in the unloved, rain-soaked British Isles.

But as good as the song is (and it is very good indeed), can you imagine how much better it would be with Adele belting out the vocals? It would be number one for the rest of the century.

Oh, and you can read my full interview with Mr Tedder on the BBC.

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Exciting news from Robyn (and Royksopp)

Hooray! There is a new mini-album on the way from Robyn and Röyksopp. The cover art, which is hovering above this paragraph, bills the performers as Röyksopp and Robyn, but I think we all know the correct order - both alphabetically and in terms of importance.

The two have collaborated before - most memorably on None Of Dem (slow-burning, introspective) and The Girl and The Robot (Madonna fed through a Commodore 64) - but this is something altogether more meaty.

"In the beginning we just knew we wanted to do something together, and then it started to feel more like a band thing than songs for a Röyksopp or Robyn album, so we're releasing this music together as a band, you could say," said Robyn.

"This five track mini-album is the accumulation and embodiment of the synergy between Robyn and ourselves," added Röyksopp, in an attempt to drain any potential excitement from the announcement.

Monument is the first track we're getting to hear - via a 1'30" preview on YouTube. It sounds promising.

Robyn and Röyksopp - Monument (preview)

Fans of longsongs (I'm looking at you Justin Timberlake) will be pleased to hear that the full version of Monument is just three seconds shy of 10 minutes. The full EP tracklisting looks like this:
Monument - 9:57
Sayit - 6:25
Do It Again - 5:06
Every Little Thing - 4:02
Inside The Idle Hour Club - 9:53

You can pre-order it now, with delivery on 26 May. But the first single, Do It Again, is only two weeks away.

"Hoo", as I said, "Ray".

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Lana Del Rey's new single: An early review

I'm writing this in advance so please delete anything that doesn't apply. Thanks.

Here it is: The stunning/awful West Coast, the first single/buzz track from Lana Del Rey's album Ultraviolence which she's releasing this summer/just Beyoncé'd all over iTunes.

It's called West Coast, because it's all about California glamour/Her rap feud with Nas/it's a typo and she meant to call it Wet Coat.

Musically, it's a brave departure/unadventurous retread of her first record with breathy vocals/breathy vocals/breathy vocals over a trip-hop beat/mournful piano/magical mouse orchestra.

Our verdict: 2/4/7/9 out of 10.

Lana Del Ray - West Coast

Update: I've listened to it once, and it's gorgeous - from the opening drum fill, to the lolloping guitar lick and Lana's pouty "I'm leaving you" vocals.

It's more of a mood piece than Video Games or National Anthem, and, apart from the live instrumentation, hardly a radical evolution of her sound. But it's a delicate, seductive comeback, replete with twangy tempo changes and just a hint of The Aloud's "Fling" (in the "move baby, move baby" section, or maybe that's just me?).

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