Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tantalising new Alesha Dixon material

Good news: Alesha Dixon, formerly of Strictly Come Dancing and having-a-recording-contract fame is back with a new song.

Bad news: It is for a rubbish car commercial.

Alesha Dixon - Ford Focus advert

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You're boring when you're straight

Take a look at the new video from transatlantic lo-fi rock combo The Kills. If you like Garbage, Blondie, The Killers or LCD Soundsystem, you will like this.

The Kills - Cheap and Cheerful

The band are singer Alison "VV" Mosshart from Disneyland's Florida and British guitarist Jamie "Hotel" Hince. They are quite happy to be compared to their friends the White Stripes, with whom they share a strange in-concert erotic tension.

Like the Stripes, they claim to be "just good friends", but in 2003 the NME asked Jamie if he got jealous when groupies flirted with Alison and he went all weird.

"I don't want to talk about it, but the answer is yes and that's it," he said after a scarily extended pause. Ooo-er.

The band are not to be confused with their altogether-more-popular near-namesakes The Killers. "I want to hit and punch anyone who makes that mistake," says Alison, who also hates being called the new PJ Harvey. "She's still alive. So I can't be," she notes.

So that's the Kills. Expect more misdirected anger, sexual antics and quirky rock-with-a-drum-machine when they release their third album, Midnight Boom, in March.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Two Kylie videos for the price of one

After the marvellously kinky 2 Hearts, Kylie's new video is a bafflingly imagination-free zone.

Neon lights? Dancing robots? Hasn't she made this exact video seven times since 2001?

Kylie - Wow

For those of us not in the UK, her other new video (for the Calvin Harris-produced In My Arms) is rather better. It's like a dayglo version of Madonna's Human Nature, with lots of people thrashing around in boxes and ms Minogue in Kanye West's sunglasses.

The video also features Kylie's biggest fan.


Kylie - In My Arms

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Run for your lives, it's Gnarly

Gnarls Barkley have been secreted away in a studio for the last couple of months concocting their new album, The Odd Couple.

According to Billboard, the album has been recorded with live musicians to give it a more organic feel than the million-selling St Elsewhere.

But the first taster, Run, sounds very much like the sampladelic hip-hop soul of their previous work, and it's all the better for it (I love those playground samples). Billboard reckons it has been leaked on purpose, which makes the record company's policy of suing the asses off anyone who downloads it even more perplexing.

Risk your savings by clicking on the following links:
:: Gnarls Barkley - Run (sharbee)
:: Gnarls Barkley - Run (zshare)

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Ting Tings they have done a video now

Before we watch this masterpiece of popular entertainment, let's have a quick lesson in rock economics:

In other words, don't build your hopes up.

The Ting Tings - A Great DJ

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Attending a Jools Holland taping

Jools Holland's perennial late-night music show recorded its 200th episode tonight, and I was lucky enough to be there. It was my first time watching the show being committed to tape (a computer), and it's quite an interesting process.

Here's what I learned:

  • The bands only get to rehearse the opening jam once before the taping begins.
  • It really is recorded in one seamless take.
  • Except they pick up any mistakes at the end . There was only one tonight, because Feist messed up. Naughty Feist.
  • The artists genuinely sit and watch each other play. Thom Yorke did a dance to Mary J Blige. Mary J Blige tapped her foot to Radiohead. It was literally a fascinating insight into their fragile psyches.
  • The cameras have wide-angle lenses to make the studio seem really large when it's no bigger than an average garage forecourt.
  • A woman is paid to run around behind the camera with a whiteboard with information like "Cat Power is from Georgia" so that Jools Holland can say "Here is Cat Power from Georgia". This is quite a good idea, when you think about it very hard.
  • Dionne Warwick has trouble walking on by these days.
  • The audience are told to wear dark colours, and anyone who does not is made to stand at the back for being too individual. In that respect, Later With Jools Holland is a bit like communist Russia.
  • Erm...
  • That's it.

    Watch the 200th episode on BBC Two this Friday, and use this information at dinner parties to make yourself popular.

    PS Someone is bound to ask what Radiohead played. They did Bodysnatchers, Weird Fishes and 15 Step for the main programme, and House Of Cards for the website.

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  • Monday, January 28, 2008

    Hrrrrnnnnk! Free MP3

    Listen here you mad bastards, the fabulous Ting Tings have just made their fabulous new single (A Great DJ - C-listed at Radio One!!!) available as a fabulous free download on their fabulous MySpace page.


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    Uplift yourself

    Here's a song from New Zealand popettes and Sub Pop signings The Brunettes. It's called Brunettes Against Bubble Gum Youth (BABY) and is equal parts B52s and The Go Team (i.e. you can dance to it, but be really cool and aloof at the same time).

    Apparently, it's being used on adverts for Hollyoaks, but don't let that put you off.

    Brunettes - Brunettes Against Bubblegum Youth (BABY)

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    Friday, January 25, 2008

    New Mark Ronson video

    Mark Ronson has released the film clip for his cover of Just, which gently takes the piss out of Radiohead's "high concept" and "angsty" original video from (eek) 1995

    It's good. So good, in fact, that I have installed this Columbia Records' hopeless proprietary video player to enable you to watch it. That's how nice I am.

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    Radio One "redefines pop"

    George Ergatoudis, the improbably named but highly influential head of music at Radio One, has done an interview with the Guardian where he heralds the "return of pop music" on the nation's favourite radio station.

    But before you take to the streets, cheering and letting off party poppers from the back of a decorated pony, take a minute to read what he says.

    "There's something of an increase in pop acts that I think are making really strong, quality new music. Ones doing really well for us at the moment are the Hoosiers, Scouting for Girls, the Wombats ... "

    Now wait just a minute.

    Scouting For Girls? The fucking Wombats? These second-rate unimaginative indie pissants are nowhere near the vast citadel known as pop. They're not even in the suburbs. They're about 500 miles off the coast, next to a sewer outlet on the seabed, slowly evolving into double-celled organisms.

    In fact, when it comes to real pop, Ergatoudis admits he's only really ready to play Sugababes and Girls Aloud, who - great though they are - are getting a bit long in the tooth.

    He glosses over the fact that Radio One chooses not to add similarly talented, quirky pop acts like Roisin Murphy, Alphabeat and Dragonnette to its hallowed playlist?

    The Guardian also points out that Ergatoudis refused to play this week's (admittedly terrible) number one, Basshunter's Now You're Gone, until it hit the top of the charts and he was forced into an "embarassing climbdown".

    Don't get me wrong - I'm all for the return of guitars in pop (and I'd have classed the Hooisers and Kaiser Chiefs as pop long before Ergatoudis had his Damascene conversion) but pretending that you're championing a genre by retrospectively re-categorising bands you already play is cuntery of the highest order.


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    Oooh, fireworks

    Here is Feist's new video.

    Feist - I Feel It All

    It is basically a low-budget version of this amazing clip.

    Audioslave - Cochise

    Sadly, neither is particularly suited to the horribly pixeallated experience of watching a video on youtube (youtube).

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    Out of this world

    Not many songs can pull off the double trick of being catchy and sounding like they've been beamed directly from outer space.

    At one end of the scale you get The Feeling who make perfectly appealing little pop songs without ever breaking open the box marked "sonic adventure" (erm, isn't that a computer game? - confused ed). At the other end of the scale is Bjork, who sounds like a lion having sex with a motorbike.

    Bravely bridging the two disciplines of songcraft and making bizarre noises is French musicamentalist Camille. You may recognise her as one of the singers from easy listening covers band Nouvelle Vague, but she also had a super solo album called Le Fil in 2006.

    She's gearing up to release her third solo effort, Music Hole, in March. But we have a taster, Money Note, which is what Daft Punk would sound like if they were a barbershop quartet.

    :: Camille - Money Note
    :: Camille - Money Note (alternative link)


    PS: You should also watch this amazing clip of Camille live on youtube (youtube)

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    Thursday, January 24, 2008

    Heath Ledger RIP

    While the newspapers were tripping over themselves to find the most lurid spin on Heath Ledger's tragic death (note to the editors: the police say there were no illegal drugs found at the scene, so you can all go fuck yourselves), took a step back from the madness and published a fantastic tribute piece by journofan Dana Stevens. It's a wonderful and fitting send-off for a sadly missed star.

    ::10 Things I Loved About Heath Ledger []


    Wednesday, January 23, 2008

    Idol returns

    Good grief! Bloody Paula Abdul has been coaxed back into a recording studio by her erstwhile American Idol colleague Randy "I'm not actually very randy at all because I have just eaten all the pies" Jackson.

    The result is a song called Dance Like There's No Tomorrow, which rates "quite okay" on the patented discopop okay-ometer (it's made out of science, fact fans).

    I wasn't planning to post this before the video came out, but there's not much else around today so here is a fan-film produced by someone with waaaay too many pieces of Paula Abdul clipart on his computer.

    Paula Abdul - Dance Like There's No Tomorrow
    WARNING: This clip contains a vocoder

    Watching this, I find myself wondering why Abdul doesn't dance any more? I'm sure the answer is in absolutely no way related to drugs.

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    Tuesday, January 22, 2008

    Return of the N.E.R.D.

    Pharrell and the other one are back, Back, BACK!!! And their mate has tagged along, too, because he was promised some fizzy pop and a Club biscuit.

    If you'd written them off, you were absolutely right to do so - particularly in the light of that Gwen Stefani debacle with the goatherd. But the production duo's new single Everyone Nose (from forthcoming album N3RD) is a return to their former big bass, big beats, silly noises glory.

    The "All the girls standing in the line for the bathroom" refrain is going to create a stampede for the dancefloor at your local discothequery.

    N.E.R.D. - Everyone Nose (MP3)

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    Kanye covered

    Canadian musician Colin Munroe has an album coming out later this year. You won't have heard of him, so he's covered Kanye West's sumptuous Flashing Lights in an attempt to "create a buzz on the blogs".

    Like Wile E Coyote to his Roadrunner, I have fallen for it.

    Colin Munroe - Flashing Lights

    I like how he's traded Kanye's braggadocio for a soupçon of self-effacing humour. "Your girls are fine - it seems a dime or two in every dozen / I only wanted one, but I'm no-one, so I get nothin'".

    It's a little disengenous, though, as Munroe is definitely a "someone". People with a thing for Canadian urban music might recognise his name as a writer and producer for acts like Ray Robinson, Divine Brown, Brown Saucepot and Frank N Dank (I only made one of those up).

    Anyway, the cover version is a great calling card. I'll keep an eye out for his solo material and see how things develop...

    [via Mixtape Maestro]

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    Monday, January 21, 2008

    Estelle's stunning new single!

    You may remember Estelle as 2004's "find the next Jamelia" London regional finalist.

    Signed by Britney's label, Jive, she had one massive hit single (1980) then skipped the whole bit where you're supposed to have a similarly successful album and caught the number 26 bus straight to the dumper instead.

    But something weird has happened, because lots of influential US producers have taken a day trip to that dumper and pulled Estelle out of it. They even decided she was hot and gave her lots of potential hit records to do her singing over the top of. Consequently, her new album has appearances from Cee-Lo, Mark Ronson, Wyclef Jean, and, on her next single, Kanye West.

    Called American Boy, it's got a relaxed, sun-bleached vibe. The cutesy, lovestruck lyrics are the sort of thing Jill Scott turns out in her sleep, but underpinning them is a tight little groove that sets controls directly for the heart of disco. In other words, it's superbrilliant.

    Lyrically, Estelle has abandoned her UK roots and set her sights on something a bit more exotic. Hence, the chorus runs: "Take me on a trip, I'd like to go some day / Take me to New York, I'd love to see LA / I really want to, come kick it with you / You'll be my American boy (American boy)".

    Something about the way Estelle half-swallows the refrain in a supressed giggle makes it the cutest thing you will hear committed to tape this year.

    If this description isn't enough to convince you that you will love the song, I suppose you could always try listening to it. Stereogum has an mp3 for you.


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    Saturday, January 19, 2008

    Playing the drums, age 1-100

    A film sequence of one hundred people hitting a snare drum, in order of age.

    78 is my favourite.

    People in Order: Drums


    Friday, January 18, 2008

    Cruz control

    Last year, I briefly turned my attention to quite-good British soul hopeful Taio Cruz [look here]. Amazingly, despite the clout and influence I carry with the UK's record buying public, his two singles tanked outside the top 20.

    Undeterred, Mr Cruz is back with a new record in which he's decided to stop trying soul music and do a dance "number" instead. Anything to boost the profile, eh kids?

    Come On Girl is categorically quite good. It owes a large debt to Justin Timberlake's My Love and those tacky Freemasons remixes that Beyonce seems so keen on. But it only really comes into its own when Cruz steps aside to let foxy rapper-for-hire Luciana do her thing.

    "You want to take a bite? Come whet my appetite," sounding like she could probably devour Taio in one mouthful.

    According Taio's Myspace blog, anticipation for his new album Departure is so feverish that its March 17th release date has been moved all the way forward to March 10th.

    Imagine that.

    :: Taio Cruz feat Luciana - Come On Girl (MP3)

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    Thriller reissue: Is it any cop?

    Having finally squeezed the last remaining breath out of Michael Jackson's back catalogue, Sony have had to come up with something new to get the fans to buy something old.

    To that end, they're releasing a 25th anniversary edition of the best-selling album of all time (Thriller, you idiot) complete with pointless hip-hop remakes of Jackson's best work.

    Poor old has been lumbered with trying to update the simpering The Girl Is Mine. To be fair, he makes a decent fist of it - excising Paul McCartney's syrupy vocals and setting the whole thing to a crispy crunchy percussion loop. His rap ("I'm sorry Mike, but she loves the way I rock her") is a much better counterpart to Jackson's melody than McCartney's cheesy broadway mugging on the original.

    Will also tackles Beat It along with his Black Eyed Peas cohort Fergie. It is one of the worst things you will ever hear.

    Akon, that irritating jailbird with the vocoder, somehow gets the chance to work his "magic" on Wanna Be Starting Something. Ignoring the fact that this is one of the best disco grooves ever committed to tape, he starts off with a minute-long solo verse accompanied by a plaintive piano and string ensemble.

    It sounds like he's performing it for a school musical.

    Coming to the rescue is hip-hop's living breathing ego Kanye West, who works his production magic on Billy Jean. Controversially, he ditches the iconic drumbeat and slows the song right down. But it works - the song gains a soaring, widescreen sweep that reveals new depth and colour to Jackson's performance. West even shows a remarkable restraint with his own vocals - merely adding the occasional "yeah" to prove he was in the studio. Superb.

    The Thriller reissue comes out on 11 Feb (oddly, this is 25 years, 2 months and 10 days after the original was released) but the songs have already leaked... Some youtube (youtube) links follow.

    :: Billie Jean 2008 - feat Kanye West
    :: Beat It 2008 - feat Fergie
    :: Wanna Be Starting Something 2008 - feat Akon
    :: The Girl Is Mine 2008 - feat (also out as a download single this week)

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    Thursday, January 17, 2008

    Duffy Springfield

    Let's politely ignore the fact that I've started a minor international diplomatic incident with my review of the Mariah Carey album below and have a look at the new video from Duffy:

    Duffy - Mercy

    Pretty good, huh?

    22-year-old Aimee Anne Duffy hails from Wales, and she's being called the next Amy Winehouse by people who aren't already calling Adele and Kate Nash the next Amy Winehouse.

    Truth be told, she's got more in common with Amy than the other two, with her refreshingly sample-free retro soul. You'll probably have your own reference points, but, to me, Mercy recalls Ben E King's Stand By Me mixed with Marvin Gaye's Can I Get A Witness. Amazingly, it is the equal of either of those tunes.

    If her voice sounds familiar, it's because it combines the vulnerable power of Dusty Springfield with the gutsy blues of Nina Simone. And again, that's not an unfair comparison...

    You might also have heard her on the odd cut by dance gurus Mint Royale (try here if you want to seek out more)

    Duffy's debut album, Rockferry, is out in the UK on 3 March, and features collaborations from Jimmy Hogarth (James Blunt), Eg White (James Morrison) and Steve Booker (Natalie Imbruglia). But don't let that put you off.

    Oh, and if you liked Mercy, check out the splendidly moody debut single Rockferry on the youtube (youtube).

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    Wednesday, January 16, 2008

    Janet and Mariah - First listen!

    So, Def Jam were showing off the two female jewels in their crown today with playbacks of the new Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey albums.

    Label Boss Antonio "LA" Reid seemed very excited about both of them, although that is his job, and mentioned plans for six singles from Mariah's That Chick, which hits the stores in April.

    First up, though, was Janet's Discipline. If you've heard the single, Feedback, you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the album. It's crisp, danceable R&B lavished with Janet's trademark velvet harmonies.

    The stand-out track was probably Tonight, a bubbling club track which can only be Jackson's response to Rihanna's Don't Stop The Music. Reid mentioned that some of the tracks weren't finished - and this one sounded like it was missing a sample somewhere in the mix. Once that's added, this could be Janet's biggest dance success since Together Again.

    Love, Love, Love and This Can't Be Good saw the lyrical return of the sweet singer who first raised her head on Let's Wait Awhile - all coy and bashful while falling head over heels in love.

    But the sleazy siren of 20 YO is also present. Title track Discipline is a gruseome plea for fetishistic S&M sex - with Janet referring to her lover as "Daddy" while asking to be tied up and disciplined. Given that her father is a well-documented control freak who used to beat his kids, this is more than a little uncomfortable.

    Speaking of family connections, there's long been a rumour that Janet and Michael will team up again (as they did on 1996's Scream) this year. Well, nothing I heard today confirms that rumour - but there is a track called Rock With You that appears to sample the single of the same name from Off The Wall. Could the finished version feature guest vocals by the former King of Pop? I genuinely hope not.

    The remaining two tracks, Rollercoaster and Greatest Ex Ever, didn't really set my world alight - but you never know what'll happen on repeated listens.

    The main thing seems to be that Janet is back on form, vocally and lyrically. The record is very safe and commercial, although I'm not sure where they'll go for the third single (Tonight surely has to be the second). But as a first step towards career rehabilitation Def Jam have made a strong play for their newest diva.

    Their old diva (in terms of contract, not age, of course) is Mariah, who is riding high after the 7xPlatinum-selling Emancipation Of Mimi.

    We got to hear 10 tracks from the follow-up, That Chick, which I have to say sounded more polished and commercial than Janet's effort.

    One track in particular is set to make big bucks, and that's Bye Bye - a torch song for people "who lost they grandmothers". I guarantee that Simon Cowell will be sick of hearing badly-realised auditions of it by the end of the year.

    Lyrics were never Carey's strong point, mind you, so her paean to loss is summed up with not-very-insightful Hallmark platitudes like "I'd give the world to see your face" and "Life goes on". Profound, eh?

    Still, at least it's better than when she desperately attempts to prove how bang up to date she is. In Touch My Body, she purrs to her lover: "If there's a camera up in here then I best not catch this flick on youtube (youtube)". Not exactly the sexiest boudoir come-on you've ever heard, is it?

    But there are plenty of good tunes to counter the awesomely bad lyrics. Migrate, about a night out with Mariah while she wears jeans ("yeah, they fit", she informs us) is sure to be a candidate for heavy MTV rotation, although I hope to god they excise T-Pain's hopelessly strained vocals. Lovin' You Long Time, meanwhile, is a strutting uptempo number very much in the style of It's Like That.

    So, what have we learnt from this listening "event"? Well, I wasn't overwhelmed by the music - despite (or perhaps because of) the fact it was played so ear-splittingly loud that it felt like I was being punched repeatedly in the ears by a cyberman. Both artists have turned in a tuneful, competent set of R&B songs, but I'm not sure that any of them have the charisma or vitality to compete with the Rihannas and Beyonces of this world.

    Both albums: 6/10 (scores may go up or down after further listens at levels tolerable to the human ear).

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    Their names are not Prince

    Let's have a look at this Prince "tribute album" which has just landed on my desk.

    Hmmm, nice artwork. And how about this line-up of stellar talent: Soulwax, D'Angelo, erm, Kode 9...

    Yes folks, of all the people who have paid tribute to Prince as an inspiration over the past decade, these are definitely the cream of the crop. We don't have time for Pharrell Williams or Justin Timberlake. What could they possibly bring to a project like this?

    Except, you know, sales.

    But maybe I'm being unfair. Perhaps these artists really have delivered something unique. A new interpretation of old masterpieces, reframing the mystique of the Minneapolean maestro into a more contemporary context, revealing - as Sinead O'Connor has done in the past - a more complex, emotional side to songs we previously thought of as party tunes or excursions in ego.

    We kick off with D'Angelo - once touted as the "next Prince" - whose workaday version of She's Always In My Hair shows why he wasn't even the next Ray Parker Jr.

    Filth-merchant Peaches would seem like the perfect candidate to cover Prince's ultimate dirty party tune, Sexy Dancer, but she spends the three minutes shouting "we're going to Prince's house" over an anonymous club beat.

    Meanwhile, Soulwax take whimsical nursery rhyme Starfish and Coffee and beat it to the ground with a rusty kettle, robbing it of all joy and life (although it now has added rusty kettle, so that's okay).

    In all, about three tracks are worth keeping: British indie kids Hefner turn in a sinister version of Controversy, which wouldn't sound out of place on a Massive Attack album; Former New Young Pony Club cohorts Blue States return Alpahbet Street to its blues roots; and Sina Nordemstam (who I only ever hear on compilation albums) strips back Purple Rain to its barest essentials, making it sound more like a stalkers' lullaby than a stadium-rousing anthem.

    Pick and choose your downloads carefully when it goes up on iTunes from 4 Feb!

    Stina Nordemstam - Purple Rain (MP3)
    7 Hurtz with Peaches - Sexy Dancer (MP3)

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    Janet Jackson is coming to get you

    Her new album cover is freaking me out, man.

    I'm off to a "listening party" for the CD this afternoon. If I'm not forced to sign away my life in a confidentiality agreement, you can read all about it here later.

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    Tuesday, January 15, 2008

    Inevitable Brits analysis thing

    The Brits nominations were published yesterday and, according to Radio One, Gwen Stefani and My Chemical Romance were "glaring omissions". Which is a right old bag of balls if you ask me.

    The shortlist is suprisingly good - rewarding the bands and artists who made an impact at the tills in 2007. Yes, that includes the Kaiser Chiefs and their mentally-retarded Ruby song, but it also means recognition for Arcade Fire, Mark Ronson, Kanye West and Foo Fighters.

    Pop acts are finally being taken seriously again after what we can only call the "Steps backlash", which means Take That get an amazing four nominations (even though their album came out in 2006) and Mika gets another four (even though, technically, he is an awful cunt).

    Best of all, the almighty Girls Aloud are up for best group. Obviously, they don't stand a chance of winning when the competition is Jo Whiley's Arctic Monkeys and Marks and Spencers's Take That, but at least they haven't been bumped off the list in favour of the fucking Pigeon Detectives.

    Despite Radio One's petulance at two of their automatically-playlisted artists being ignored - because no-one really likes them - the really obvious omissions are Radiohead (not eligible, apparently), The Police (not as good at playing live as the Klaxons) and Prince (not really that popular in 2007).

    Also - shortlisting Michael Buble for best international male is the best Brits in-joke since Jonathan King's Brits Dance Medley in 1990.

    You can find the full list of nominees here because there's no way I'm typing all that rubbish out for myself.

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    Alphabeat: Ace or Un-ace?

    I can't decide. What do you reckon?

    Alphabeat - Fantastic 6

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    Monday, January 14, 2008

    Sexy new band alert!

    Well, they're not particularly sexy, but I got your attention...

    The band in question is The Management - or MGMT for short - and thankfully they are not a Hale and Pace tribute act (for younger readers, Hale and Pace were the 1980s equivalent of Alan Carr and Justin Lee Collins, only without the facial hair and subtlety).

    Formed at Wesleyan University, which is apparently in Connecticut, the band cut their teeth playing the theme tune to Ghostbusters. Not just once, mind you, but over and over again for the duration of their live set.

    With that achievement under their belt, they started to write their own music - hitting on a euphoric pop formula which is equal parts Rolling Stones and Hot Chip. Unlike Hot Chip, however, their vocals are not performed by Charlie Brown.

    MGMT's debut single, Time To Pretend, is about their fantasies of becoming famous, taking drugs and divorcing models:
    This is our decision to live fast and die young.
    We've got the vision, now let's have some fun.
    Yeah it's overwhelming, but what else can we do?
    Get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute?

    Given their prominence on several critics' ones-to-watch lists for 2008, those fantasies show early promise of coming true. Somebody might even stump up the cash to pay for a video which doesn't consist of images ripped off from the BBC's Planet Earth programme.

    MGMT - Time To Pretend (fan video)

    Download the single for free from the band's website.

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    Friday, January 11, 2008

    Cardigans best of & Send your questions!

    I am totally in love with the hand-drawn artwork for the Cardigan's forthcoming best of collection:

    The 21-track compilation doesn't include any new songs but, for everyone except their diehard fans, the last half of the CD is likely to be unfamiliar territory, drawn as it is from the band's two most recent albums, which sold approximately nine copies in the UK.

    Don't be fooled by the sales figures, though, as the Swedish fivesome are one of those bands who get better and better as they mature - even if they have turned into a right old bunch of miseryguts, ditching love songs for odes to domestic violence:

    Love me, love me
    Say that you love me
    (Lovefool - 1996)

    I never quite knew how it feels
    When love makes you wake up sore
    With fists that are ready for more
    (And Then You Kissed Me - 2003)

    I do hope the release of a greatest hits doesn't mean they're splitting up, but given that their website constantly repeats the assertion they won't be touring this year, adding that singer Nina Persson has gone back to her side project A Camp, I'm not that hopeful.

    However, I have been promised an interview with the band over the next couple of weeks, so if you have any questions you'd like to ask drop a note in the comments box.

    Nothing about Lovefool, though. Apparently they hate it.

    UPDATE: The finished article was published in March 2008. You can read it here.

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    Thursday, January 10, 2008

    Super Mario Chortle

    I am now the proud owner of 87 stars on Super Mario Galaxy, which I have been playing on my Wii so hard that my elbow is about as useful as that bit of string holding two raw sausages together.

    It is fabulous, by the way. Full of glorious technicolour landscapes and unfettered imagination, unlike all those XBox games set in a disused factory, a brown desert or - for variety - a disused factory in a brown desert.

    It also feels like a proper game, full of exploration and innovation - particularly when it plays fast and loose with the rules of gravity. At no point do you have to run down a corridor and shoot forty identical zombies working for a faceless corporation in a dystopian version of the future.

    There is also a planet shaped like a lady.

    But I'm not going to attempt a full review because (a) the game is two months old and (b) I've just stumbled across this drily sardonic video review, which caused me to bellow a guffaw across the office (nb: not a euphemism for farting).

    Good, huh? The reviewer in question, Yahtzee, has a whole archive of similarly mirthsome reviews. The archive is available here.

    And for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, here's a snippet of Mario action:

    Super Mario Galaxy - Trailer

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    Wednesday, January 9, 2008

    Sugababes's video = subtle

    The Sugababes are back with the third (and best) single from their Change album - Denial.

    The video is either "very arty" or "an overblown media studies project". The sensitive handling of the song's lyrics can be summed up with the following freeze-frame.

    Do you see? The egg represents love and it is all smashed up. It is, like, totally a metaphor for a broken heart.

    Sugababes - Denial

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    DJ, could you please turn that music down a little bit, it's hurting my ears?

    There's a very interesting article up on the Rolling Stone website about how bands have been using compression to make their CDs sound louder at the expense of quality.

    Compression is a technique that, at a very basic level, evens out the overall volume of a track so it is constantly as loud as it can be. Your ear, which is trained to pay particular attention to loud noises, immediately thinks "this is important, I should listen to this". Yes, even if it's Enrique Inglesias.

    The problem is that, when the quiet sections of a song are played at the same volume as the chorus, you lose the dynamics that make a song interesting. Intricate details like plucked strings or finger cymbals get smothered in noise as the instruments compete against one another. And, most importantly, it introduces ear fatigue.

    Radio One traditionally uses a lot of compression so that it can be heard over traffic or factory noises. If you have one of those stereos with a peak level meter on it, tune in to Radio One and watch it. It barely moves. That's why, after thirty minutes or so, it often becomes difficult to listen to (unless Sara Cox is on, in which case the time limit is 30 seconds).

    In the past decade, CDs have started to apply the same technology, often to the detriment of the music they contain. Two examples that spring to mind are Daft Punk's Discovery and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' By The Way. They both have that tell-tale "pumping" sound, where other instruments are subjugated by transient sounds like kick drums and power chords.

    Now, it seems like people in the music industry are starting to rebel against the technique… Read Rolling Stone's investigation to see why producers think listening to music on CD is now "like going to the Louvre and instead of the Mona Lisa there's a 10-megapixel image of it".

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    Tuesday, January 8, 2008

    Goldfrapp's A&E video = odd

    Just before Christmas, I alluded to Goldfrapp's new single and how it was shaping up to be the best song of 2008 before 2008 had even put its head round the door to say "Hello, I am 2008 and I will be your year for this year".

    Called A&E, the song is a beautiful, acoustic, banjo-fuelled ballad. In other words, it's a complete departure for the icy electronic duo... unless you count all that stuff they did on their first album which was quite similar.

    According to the band's up-to-the-minute Myspace page, the video "is in and looks great" and "the lovely people at Channel 4 (in the UK) will be showing it EXCLUSIVELY on Saturday 12th January".

    Except, in this fast-paced interconnected world of the internet and stuff, it "is out" and has been premiering EXCLUSIVELY on countless video-sharing websites for literally minutes.

    The video all starts off very pleasantly, with Alison Goldfrapp lying in a pile of mulch singing her melancholy lullaby to the forest.

    Then, for no reason at all, out pops Marjory the singing trash heap from Fraggle Rock who does a dance with some of her mates.

    There is also a trangia.

    Goldfrapp - A&E

    (video fixed now - thanks for the emails!)

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    Janet's Feedback video = good

    Janet Jackson's latest video is out there on the internot and, praise be, it's a right corker.

    Defying Jackson convention, the clip starts slowly as Janet apparently pays tribute to Super Mario Galaxy by jumping around a few planetoid-shaped objects. She even appears to slip off one of them about 40 seconds into the track, but that's intentional, isn't it?

    After she gets all that Wii out of her system (shnarf!) the real choreography starts about 2 minutes into the track. And you should definitely stick around for the post-fadeout, CGI-enhanced dance breakdown - with Janet looking all curvalicious in a head-to-toe crimson catsuit.

    British director Saam Farahmand (New Young Pony Club's Ice Cream, the Klaxons' Magick) also manages to avoid catering to any of Janet's tedious sexual preoccupations. Well, at least until the very last freeze frame, which appears to feature Janet amidst a flood of of sperms (all done in the best possible taste, of course).

    The video seems to have leaked a bit early on Yahoo's US website, which loads the video intermittently if you have the patience to keep pressing the refresh button. The following embedded video may or may not work, depending on the prevailing wind.

    I'll update with a Youtube link once it's officially set free online - which should be after the premiere on BET at 6pm EST tonight.

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    Monday, January 7, 2008

    Get Smart trailer

    Following the disappointment of Evan Almighty, Steve Carell's next big screen outing looks like a return to form. Get Smart isn't out until the summer, but the trailer has already made me do one of those pleasant laughs where you snort at the end.

    Get Smart - Teaser trailer

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    Sunday, January 6, 2008

    Gig review: Spice Girls at the O2

    One of the curious effects of all these pop reunions is that you find yourself revisiting decade-old emotions while listening to music that, at the time, had no effect on your psyche whatsoever.

    So it is with the Spice Girls, whose harmless ditties about friendship, girl power, and having a lovely mum now bring to mind my postgraduate degree in the North-West's most depressing city, Preston. It was the worst year of my life - stuck in a desolate hole where, if it wasn't raining, it was blowing a force ten gale and raining.

    Which is weird because, at the time, the Spices were the one beacon of light in a musical landscape otherwise dominated by Kula Shaker, the Lightning Seeds and Celine fucking Dion.

    The question at tonight's gig was whether I'd be able to get over my Preston flashbacks (dear Jesus, the relentless drizzle) and remember the good time party band the nation clutched so firmly to its busom.

    In the end, the band make it quite easy to blow the cobwebs away with their ebullient, sparkling stage presence. Not to mention the set-opening triple whammy of Spice Up Your Life, Stop and Say You'll Be There.

    "It's great to see so many people here on a Sunday," yells Geri - by far the most excited returning Spicette. "Let's have a party! Fuck work!".

    "Geri," scolds Mel B, "I've told you before to watch your language. There's kids here."

    "Oh yeah," Ginger replies, pausing for a second before adding: "Fuck School!"

    This cheeky stupidity is the very spark that lit the band's international, chart-busting powder kegs back in the 90s. It is also the ingredient that never transferred to the girls' solo careers. Tonight, it is very much back in evidence.

    They're an older bunch now, though, dedicating Mama to each other (although Posh belatedly remembers their parents are in the crowd too). But age seems to have improved them. Compared to their 1998 tour, the show is bigger, more polished and superbly conceived.

    The sound is the best I've ever heard at the O2, and the song arrangements are tight and imaginative - integrating perfectly with the lavish, themed costumes and sets. Viva Forever is a particular highlight, with a full-on Argentinian tango thrown into the middle. Even the floptastic comeback single Headlines sounds bombastic and chunky - with thundering guitar chords beefing up the anaemic production of the single.

    The crowd are an odd bunch, though. Every time Posh gets a solo line, the entire arena erupts in applause. Perhaps, posited mrsdiscopop, they're amazed she has that much breath in her.

    Another awkward point is the solo section, where each member gets a turn at pretending to be the Robbie rather than the Howard.

    Posh does a catwalk turn that is so toe-curlingly embarrassing that you wonder whether the others suggested it as part of a joke that went badly wrong. Mel B belts out a pointless version of Lenny Kravitz's Are You Going To Go My Way while poledancing for a member of the audience.

    Except she couldn't afford a pole, so she had to use a stepladder.

    Emma, on the other hand, sparkles with her Petula Clark homage Maybe, Geri proves she can out-yoga Madonna while delivering a passable It's Raining Men, and Mel C shouts her way through I Turn To You - with lasers.

    But then, they have to flesh out the show with these solo bits because there are only seven or eight decent Spice Girls songs to get through.

    Of the others, Holler and Let Love Lead The Way are as tedious as you remember and The Lady Is A Vamp still sounds like the theme to Top Cat sung by an actual cat. The result is that one-third of the band's 22-song concert consists of cover versions. Urgh.

    Nonetheless, the Spice Girls could fill the cavernous O2 arena with their larger-than-life personalities even if they had to perform Homer's Odyssey in mime with the lights out, and those seven or eight decent songs are among the best pop records of the last two decades - so who am I to complain?

    Spice Up Your Life
    Say You'll Be There
    Headlines (Friendship Never Ends)
    The Lady Is A Vamp
    Too Much (awful big band version)
    2 Become 1
    Who Do You Think You Are?
    Like A Virgin (Victoria Beckham solo catwalk)
    Are You Gonna Go My Way? (Mel B solo)
    Maybe" (Emma Bunton solo)
    Viva Forever
    It's Raining Men (Geri solo)
    I Turn To You (Mel C solo)
    Let Love Lead The Way
    Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)
    That's The Way I Like It
    We Are Family

    If U Can't Dance
    Spice Up Your Life (reprise)

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    Friday, January 4, 2008

    There's hope yet for Dragonette

    It is with great glee that I read Canadian electro-popsters Dragonette will be the headline act at music trade showcase / annual drug-bingeathon Midem, which takes place in Paris at the end of the month.

    Why? Because any band that releases this image as a publicity shot deserves to be massive.

    How refreshing to see that record label Mercury are continuing to support the band after their singles and album flopped so badly last year. Most bands would have been given a one-way express ticket to dumperdom by now, without so much as a Twix to keep the hunger pangs at bay on the journey.

    In Dragonette's case, that would be a real pity because they're actually very, very good. Also, lead singer Martina is a terrible gymnast, so they need the music contract to keep them in essential food items.

    If you have no idea what I'm talking about, here's the video for their saucy smash hit single, Take It Like A Man (number 122 in the UK hit parade!). It's the sort of thing the Scissor Sisters would do if they hadn't gone all shit, and the video is a little bit porny.

    Dragonette - Take it Like A Man

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    Britney's death will be televised

    I wouldn’t normally agree with the Leave Britney Alone guy, but today I'm thinking about putting on some eyeliner and weeping grotesquely under a blanket.

    While you can't excuse Spears for being under the influence of "unnamed substances" while in charge of her children [read more] the following video gives some context for why she's such a train-wreck.

    After being stretchered out of her house and rushed to hospital at the behest of the LAPD, the paparazzi actually impede the progress of the ambulance rather than let her receive medical treatment. Is this what we've come to?

    Reuters says there were four helicopters following the drive to the hospital. Unbelievable.

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    Thursday, January 3, 2008


    Radiohead's much-vaunted televised New Year concert turned out to be a bit of a damp squib. For those of us who could find it (broadcaster Current TV failed to list it in their EPG) it turned out to be a collection of pre-recorded performances, previously-released web clips, bizarre slow-motion video interludes and monologues about wee wee.

    Undoubtedly the hour-long 'private taping' (home video) will be hailed as a filmic masterpiece, with its disjointed visuals and "clever" manipulation of our pre-conceived ideas of mass media events. Really, though, its just a bunch of yawnsome students pretending to be arty.

    Getting a man with a serious baritone voice to make portentous announcements about random nonsense doesn't make you a philosopher. It makes you a poor man's Chris Morris.

    Luckily, the music was as brilliant as ever, with the entire In Rainbows album played in one form or another. Here's a video clip of Faust Arp, plus a load of links to the other videos.

    Radiohead - Faust Arp (with added 'frothy piss')

    In Rainbows in videos
    :: 15 Step
    :: Bodysnatchers
    :: Nude
    :: Weird Fishes / Arpeggi
    :: All I Need
    :: Faust Arp
    :: Reckoner
    :: House Of Cards
    :: Jigsaw Falling Into Place
    :: Videotape

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    Wednesday, January 2, 2008

    Top 10 Discopop albums of 2007

    Happy New Year! And, looking forward at our past, here are the top 10 albums from the Discopop Towers ghettoblaster in 2007.

    1) ROBYN - ROBYN

    Sounds like: Early Madonna, with better jokes.

    The critics say: “Is it any good? No. IT IS FUCKING BRILLIANT!” (popjustice)

    We say: Okay, so this came out in Sweden three years ago but it’s still the freshest, deadliest pop album to hit these shores in aeons. Robyn pens a killer hook, but her real skill is in the lyrics, which can be heartbreaking (“It’s a good thing tears never show in the pouring rain”), sentimental (“I would knit you mittens and make you pie”) or out-and-out comedy (“I’ll make your balls bounce like a game of ping pong”). One for the rewind button every time.



    Sounds like: Twelve monks who are, like, really depressed about the future.

    The critics say: “A magical kingdom of noise that's equal parts Disney's Fantasia and Echo & The Bunnymen's lavish Ocean Rain.” (Q magazine)

    We say: Post-millennial angst you can sing along to. Planes crash into buildings, families are ripped apart by war, a big black tidal wave comes to wipe out the population. Not the cheeriest album of the year, but certainly the most epic.



    Sounds like: A kids party in a mental asylum.

    The critics say: “Lots of handclaps, woo woo backing vocals, and laughs amid funny observations about contemporary urban hipster life reveal an assured and charming debut.” (Stylus magazine)

    We say: Hey, it’s another album that’s technically three years old. Did I ever say I was a hip and with-it indie scenester? No, I did not.

    Anyway, CSS are brilliant. Bouncy, stupid and colourful – they could only have come from Sao Paolo. The lyrics verge on nonsense (“Am I a mouse? Am I an elephant?!”) yet often reveal something deeper on repeated listens. But Cansei De Ser Sexy (tired of being sexy) is mostly designed for jumping up and down to in a student disco with a bacardi breezer and an ironic t-shirt. Ah, the memories.



    Sounds like: A modern r&b record that knows its roots.

    The critics say: “It would be no exaggeration to call Amerie one of the greatest singers in pop music. Her vocal performances are extraordinary: she catches the fleeting thrills and momentary rushes of intensity that permeate otherwise mundane days, and stretches those feelings out across four-minute songs without ever letting up.” (The Guardian)

    We say: R&B is in a bit of a lull these days, which is why it’s so utterly criminal that this sparkling firecracker of an album did so badly. The record company hasn’t even bothered to release it in the US, which means it could be one of the great lost records of our time.

    Amerie, who takes on a great deal of the writing duties for her third album, has a fantastic understanding of her soul music forebears and pays tribute to the likes of Smokey Robinson, Issac Hayes and Dozier-Holland-Dozier throughout. Not that this is a Winehouse-esque pastiche of latter-day r&b. Every lesson she learned from those masterminds of composition has been updated and spun in new directions, underscored by that fantastic voice. 2007 didn’t have a better soul workout than Gotta Work, a funkier guitar line than Take Control, or a more sugary pop confection than Crush.

    Seriously, you have got to buy this album.



    Sounds like: A girl band growing up.

    The critics say: “Unbeatable future pop hits.” (NME)

    We say: It didn’t seem possible a year ago that a band who would release a tired, by-numbers cover of I Think We’re Alone Now would emerge re-invigorated to produce an album this fresh. The traditional Girls Aloud formula still stands – preposterous song structures, brain-eating hooks – but the mood is a little more melancholy than before. Call The Shots, their best single since Biology, is a minor-key pop wonder, while future single I Can’t Speak French is a sultry mid-tempo sleazefest. Top marks all round.



    Sounds like: A Radiohead album.

    The critics say: “The first time I listened to Radiohead's In Rainbows, I loved it, no holds barred. Joy warmed my ears as the album's 10 songs poured forth from a freshly unzipped download.” (Los Angeles Times)

    We say: I didn’t wet my pants quite as readily as everyone else, but In Rainbows is a fantastic album, and probably the most direct record Radiohead have released since The Bends. You can hear what Thom Yorke is singing, you can hum most of the tunes, but you’d still be hard pressed to replicate most of the songs on an acoustic guitar. The ones that you can, however, are stunning . Among them are Nude, Faust Arp and Reckoner – some of the most beautifully haunting ballads the band have ever written.

    On another note - I never thought I’d see the day when Thom Yorke cribbed lyrics from Madonna’s Justify My Love. But on House Of Cards he really does sing “I don’t want to be your friend, I just want to be your lover”. Amazing.



    Sounds like: Goldfrapp snogging Britney Spears in a strip club toilet.

    The critics say: “A 21st Century Eurythmics” (Uncut)

    We say: This one crept in under the radar and burrowed its way into our mind with the cunning use of big, fat choruses from planet singalong. Dragonette, a Canadian band managed by the team behind the Scissor Sisters, plough a similar furrow to their New York counterparts. That is to say, glittery synth-driven pop with an undercurrent of sleaze. My particular favourite is Competition – a song about stealing someone from their girlfriend by being better in bed (“Goodness I like this, being your mistress,” purrs singer Martina Sorbara). No-one seems to have heard of them, and the album is rarer than a French beefsteak, but I still love it.



    Sounds like: A ginger Kate Bush.

    The critics say: “Nobody else in 2007 is making records this bold, this big-hearted and this defiantly different.” (Digital Spy)

    We say: Siobhan, the first former Sugababe, surpassed the ambition and invention of her former colleagues this year but she paid the price for releasing such a wayward, complex album without the calling card of a radio-friendly single. If you’re going to be Kate Bush or Tori Amos, you need a Wuthering Heights or Cornflake Girl to alert people to your presence. But for those prepared to investigate, this is pop on a grand scale: sweeping strings, icy melodies and choruses like a warm bath (I’m not quite sure what that means, but I think you get the point).



    Sounds like: Robot hip-hop from the only producer in the game.

    The critics say: “It would be more accurately titled Timbaland Presents Slight Confusion or Timbaland Presents an Uneven Mess.” (Allmusic)

    We say: Admittedly, only 11 of Shock Value’s 19 tracks still exist on my iPod, but those tracks are stunning. And, even when the album fails, you have to give Timbaland credit for attempting to broaden his musical palette. Rather than go down the Dr Dre route of calling up all his famous mates (although Justin and Nelly do appear), he has roped in The Hives, Fall Out Boy and Elton John to create some of the album’s stand-out tracks.

    My favourite, however, is the UK-only bonus track – Come Around – which features underground rap star M.I.A. Her slinky delivery is, for once, not drowned out by superfluous sound effects and rave sirens as Timbaland gives a masterclass in how to frame a woman’s vocals. The song is only let down by the hip-hop supremo’s own rapping which, at its best, is hopeless. “Baby girl, you and me / Need to go to your tipi”. Oh dear.



    Sounds like: A collection of songs assembled by big-name r&b producers and sung by a very lucky lady from Barbados.

    The critics say: “Beyonce's superstar status is not in danger, but she should hand her A&R man a copy of this album.” (The Observer)

    We say: Umbrella is great. Don’t Stop The Music is great. The rest of Good Girl Gone Bad is very good assembly-line pop. You don’t learn anything about Rihanna, the 19-year-old musical phenomenon with a pretty nose, whose whiny voice will almost certainly begin to grate by the second half of the record. And, with the exception of the one about the precipitation-repelling device, you won't be singing any of these songs three years from now.

    If I sound like I don’t like Good Girl Gone Bad, it’s because I’m a little frightened of what it represents – that lots of money can buy you a hit album regardless of your talent. So, while this is my 10th most listened-to album of the year (this list is based on my iTunes play counts) I’d prefer to give the “award” to Stargate, Timbaland, Redzone and all the other production teams, rather than Rihanna who had her photograph taken for the picture on the cover.

    ...And on that grumpy note, let’s look forward to the next 12 months of music!

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