Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Robbie goes EDM and 10 other songs you may have missed

A semi-regular round-up of songs that I didn't have time to blog about this week because I was pushing swings and watching In The Night Garden. Quality guaranteed.

1) Avicii ft Robbie Williams - The Days
The first lead single from Avicii's second album Stories, this is excellent - like ELO remixed by, well, Avicii.

It was accidentally uploaded to the Swedish DJ's YouTube channel for a couple of hours earlier this week. But it stuck around long enough for people to grab the audio and upload it elsewhere. Et voila.

2) Odesza - Say My Name (RAC Mix)
The original version of Say My Name is pleasant enough but RAC - as they so often do - track down the song's sweet spot and exploit it ruthlessly. This is brilliant.

3) Aretha Franklin - Rolling In The Deep (The Aretha Version)
The parenthesised subtitle is audacious, but if anyone's earned the right to plant a flag in Adele's song and declare it their own, it's Ms Franklin. (Although, with the greatest r-e-s-p-e-c-t, the original is about 20 times better).

4) Kendrick Lamar - i
Over in America, the hip-hop heads are having a heated debate about Kendrick Lamar's new single, accusing the so-called "Savior (Saviour) of hip-hop" of selling out. Why? Because the song is a radio-friendly, Isley Brother-sampling, freewheeling juggernaut of positivity.

To which I say: Your loss.

5) Pharrell Williams - It Girl
In a further effort to rehabilitate his image, Pharrell spends this video chatting up a pre-teen manga character with unfeasibly large breasts. Oh, hang on...

6) Billie Black - I Don't Need Another Lover
Nineteen-year-old Londoner Billie Black really impresses on this slinky soul track. Her voice will remind you of Jessie Ware, but that's not a criticism. This is pure pleasure.

7) Becky Hill - Losing
The voice behind Oliver Helden's Gecko (Overdrive) and Rudimental's Powerless, and a former contestant on The Voice-although-we-don't-talk-about-that, Becky Hill is one to watch for 2015. This MNEK-produced single is further proof that she possesses a healthy serving of special sauce.

8) Clean Bandit - Real Love (ft Jess Glynne)
A fantastic treat from the Clean Bandit crew - a new, unreleased track with Rather Be vocalist Jess Glynne. Their Facebook page says its a co-release, suggesting its from Jess's forthcoming solo album, but Clean Bandit get top billing. How odd.

Real Love is one of those songs that tricks you into thinking it's going to be a lighters-aloft ballad before exploding like a bejewelled kitten. And we all love bejwelled kittens, right?

9) Chromeo - Old 45s
The lyrics are an ode to the singles of your youth, and the video stars Haim and Napoleon Dynamite. I couldn't resist.

10) Ben Howard - Hideaway (Kiesza cover)
I'm not usually a fan of the "slow down a dance song and reveal untold depths" school of Live Lounge covers, because dance songs always have untold depths and only music snobs think otherwise. But this beautiful, solemn take on Kiesza's future classic is so beautiful it gets a free pass.

That's this week's pick. What was your favourite? Let me know in the comments or on the Twitter "sphere".

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Cheryl gives precisely zero damns

"Waking up diagonal like an animal" has to qualify as the year's oddest opening couplet. But, I'll tell you what, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini doesn't want to know what you think about it, muggins. In fact, she's written a whole song* about how much of a crap she doesn't give.

"I don't care," she sings. "I don't care (about your underwear)."

Of course not - but those might as well be the lyrics. I Don't Care is all about Cheryl shrugging off other people's criticisms and opinions. She even gets in a little jibe at those who carped she'd rushed into her second marriage:

"Everyone is saying now, just slow it down.
Or I'll get hurt again, oh yeah.
When these things are feeling me(??), it's healing me.
And I'm screaming I don't care."

Sadly, the song's lacklustre backing track doesn't convey the fire and brimstone of the lyrics. It's good enough to give her another number one - but there's part of me that still hopes Cheryl will someday release a single that stops everyone dead in their tracks and makes them go "oh, holy shit" (but in the good way).

Listen below...

Cheryl - I Don't Care

* with a little help from Bonnie McKee, Jocke Ahlund and John Newman

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Kyiki inside

I've written about Kyiki before and she is quite simply brilliant.

You might know her better as Eleanor Fletcher, lead singer of scrappy folk-dance "outfit" Crystal Fighters. She's a properly qualified pop star and everything, with a degree in music production (she submitted her coursework while on tour in Mexico, which is all rather la-di-da).

As Crystal Fighters begin the long process of recording their third album, Eleanor / Kyiki is striking out with her solo project. One is her debut single, and it's so tasty you could spread it on toast and eat it for supper.

It starts subtly - a meandering keyboard figure has a chance encounter with an echo-drenched vocal. "Well, this is very pretty," you'll be thinking, "but it's 30 seconds since I checked Twitter and Buzzfeed just published a list of Amy Adams gifs that they promise will blow my mind..."

Well, if you disappear down that internet wormhole, you're an idiot. Because once this song gets going, it's transcendent.

PS: In case you're wondering, Fletcher's curiously spelt alter-ego was made up while "researching Hawaiian words" (naturally). Kyiki is "probably the worst parts of me in a weird way," she told The 405. "That's getting all of my negative and crazy parts and putting it into a musical form."

On her official site, Fletcher spells the name entirely in capitals - ie KYIKI - but if I won't let Adele and Prince get away with that sort of linguistic terrorism in my iTunes library, I'm certainly not giving a free pass to a newcomer.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

New from Lorde: Yellow Flicker Beat

The world's busiest teenager - aka Lorde - has been spending the downtime on her world tour curating the soundtrack to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One (what a mouthful).

"Every night, after I play, and say hi, and take pictures, and I walk up the stairs and we go on our way, I set up in this little bed office. I work from midnight until late on the soundtrack, singing into my computer, listening to demos and final mixes. My bus sleeps," she writes on her website.

The film's out in December which, in this world of hyperbole and titillation, means the build-up started aeons ago. But we had to wait until today to hear Lorde's first musical contribution.

Lyrically, Yellow Flicker Flame is a departure from the New Zealander's usual subject matter of small town ennui, plunging straight into The Hunger Games' fantasy world. Playing the film book's reluctant heroine, Katniss Everdeen, she sings about the dilemmas facing a teenage revolutionary. "They used to shout my name, now they whisper it," she whispers, before putting her battle face on: "I made a little prison, and I’m locking up everyone that ever laid a finger on me." Yeouch.

Listen below... And if you're not convinced by the drone of the opening bars, stick around for a killer chorus.

Lorde - Yellow Flicker Beat

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Here's a sort-of new Sam Smith tune

If you've read any of Sam Smith's interviews, you'll be aware that the bequiffed balladeer suffered more than his fair share of false starts before hitting the big time (current highlights: A top two album in the US, singing with Mary J Blige, making Lady Gaga cry).

In fact, he went through nine managers before he was 21. Nine.

"I was very young, I was still in school and everyone had a lot of ideas about what they wanted me to do, but I didn't myself," he told me when he won the BBC Sound of 2014. "There was a lot of drama, basically."

Less well known is that he recorded an entire album during that period - and now the company that owns it is trying to cash in letting us hear some of those early tracks.

Moments was uploaded to Soundcloud earlier this week and you can hear the potential in Smith's performance, even if he was too timid to really let those big notes rip. I note that it's not the original version (which was presumably too anaemic for public consumption) but a doleful deep house remix, with a punchy piano riff that frames his sad-sack vocals perfectly.

Of archival interest, if nothing else.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

New from Tove Lo - Thousand Miles

You know the drill by now: Tove Lo is from Sweden. She is responsible for half a dozen excellent pop songs, including the chart-bothering Habits (Stay High) and Girls Aloud's swansong, Something New. She is a bit of a wildchild, and peppers her interviews with quotes like: "I once set another girl's hair on fire accidentally".

Her album Queen of the Clouds is out next week if you live in the "rest of the world" but - GRRRRR - it isn't even on the schedules for the UK, which means it'll probably be out sometime in 2015 (even though she's playing the Electric Ballroom in November - double grrr).

Of course, you could do what I just did and pre-order it from Amazon's French site (it cost £14.49 once all the taxes and shipping costs were counted but, trust me, it's totally worth it).

If you're not up for all that hassle, Tove's just uploaded a new song called Thousand Miles to YouTube. It's taken from "THE PAIN" section of her album and she describes it like this: "There's no good way to end things - cause it's ending, you know? Passion comes with pain. Here's Thousand Miles, the song that brings me to tears and still lights that string of hope that 'maybe we'll make it'".

It is, inevitably, quite good.

Tove Lo - Thousand Miles

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