Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top 10 Singles Of The Year

It's getting harder and harder to tell whether a song is actually a single any more. Now that the certainty of seeing an actual CD sitting on a shelf is gone, so many songs I thought were singles turn out to have been radio only, or buzz tracks, or whatever. But I'm pretty sure all of the following records featured on some record company spreadsheet as "the single" for a particular artist's campaign.

As usual, the top 10 is compiled from iTunes play counts, weighted for release date, so that I can't cheat and suddenly pretend to have been listening to Animal Collective all along. Because I didn't.

1) Marina & The Diamonds - I Am Not A Robot

I fell in love with this the instant the digitised backing vocals kicked in. As I suspect will become a theme with Marina when we hear her full album next year, it is all about self-expression and being true to your id. And, as long as Miss Diamandis' inner demons are producing exquisite alt-pop ballads like this, I'm all for it.

2)Girls Aloud - Untouchable

Gone, but not really gone, but not forgotten, either.

3) La Roux - Bulletproof

Who'd have thunk it? Little Elly Jackson is probably the year's least likely pop star - wan, awkward, and brittle - but she turned out the biggest, killingest hook of them all. The synths envelop her delicate voice like a suit of armour as, lyrically, she builds a wall around her broken heart. That's metaphor, right there.

4) Cheryl Cole - Fight For This Love

I didn't expect this to be so high up the chart, but it turns out I quite liked it, after all. The textbook definition of a grower, it was totally unremarkable but strangely memorable ALL AT THE SAME TIME. How do they do that, etc?

5) A Camp - Stronger Than Jesus

This is a very female-heavy top 10, isn't it? Well, at least there's a change of pace with this song from Swedish misery-chops Nina Persson and her cohorts. My favourite lyrics of the year, too, dismissing love as "the poison hidden in a bon bon". Maybe she should try a different sweet shop.

6) Florence & The Machine - Drumming Song

Everyone else will surely go for Rabbit Heart as the defining Florence song of the year, but as a dyed-in-the-wool percussionist, this is the one that did it for me. I have ruined precisely 42 journeys to work for the passengers of London's E2 bus by banging out the limb-entangling drum line of this song on the railings. And I do not apologise for a single second.

7) Empire Of The Sun - Walking On A Dream

No-one ever knows what I'm talking about when I mention this track, forcing me to sing "we are always running for the thrill of it, thrill of it", at which point they say "oh, yes that song. I thought it was by MGMT". Well, it's not.

8) Jay-Z - Empire State Of Mind

To be fair, Jay-Z could have delivered a Ronnie Corbett monologue over this backing track and I'd still have bought it. Compare the syncopated, pounding piano line to the watery guff that leaks all over Alicia Keys' original and you will see why the Jiggaman (I love typing that) is still at the top of his game after 20 years. At the same time, reading out a New York tourism information leaflet and calling it lyrics is actually a step below the Ronnie Corbett thing.

9) Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Heads Will Roll

In which Karen O finds a dancefloor, puts her handbag down, and embarks upon a ir-tossing, foot-stomping, necklace shredding dances that is both utter genius and the sort of thing that would get you arrested in Gdansk.

10) The Veronicas - Untouched

This is the result of an unhealthy three-week obsession with The Veronicas album sampler in March, which evaporated like Ribena in a kiln as soon as the full album was released. There is a great (and probably unintentional) lyrical sleight of hand in this song - when Lisa and Jess sing 30 seconds of utter gibberish ("I go 'oooh oooh', you go 'aah ahh', alalala alalala") and then flip it around with "right now you're the only thing that's making any sense to me". Smashing.

PS: I'm as surprised as you by the absence of Lady GaGa from this list. She actually tied with herself for 11th place (Poker Face and Bad Romance got the same score once I'd done all the MATHS), but The Veronicas just pipped her to the post. Unless you discount them for originally releasing their single in 2007. Which I don't.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

New old tunes

There's still manic mania here at Discopop Towers - but I have had the chance to put some "year end" podcasts on in the background, leading to some new discoveries of songs that came out six months ago. Here are two favourites: K'Naan, a Somalian rapper with more hooks than a fishmongers, and Fanfarlo, who are basically a happier, English Arcade Fire.

K'Naan - Waving The Flag

Fanfarlo - Harold T Wilkins

Also, you should check out Rolling Stone's 100 Best Songs of the Decade. It's almost perfect.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lady GaGa and the Queen

Busy week - Sound of 2010 profiles and End Of The Decade review pieces to write at the proper job - but this caught my eye while I was clicking around the interweb earlier. Lady GaGa's (relatively) low-key performance of Speechless at the Royal Variety Performance, which took place last week but was broadcast on Wednesday night. Despite the props and the glitter and the harness, she is actually letting the song speak for itself on this occasion, and it works perfectly.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

HONK! It's a Crimbo playlist


In my other job as the Sultan of BBC Entertainment News (it's an honorary title), I have had the pleasurable task of putting together an alternative Christmas playlist, and discovering lots of new festive songs along the way. I now feel jollier than Santa on Boxing Day.

Hopefully, I have managed to post the whole thing below in Youtubey format - and each video will play automatically when the previous one ends. You can also listen to an expanded version on Spotify by clicking on this link

No Cliff, no Wizzard and no Fairytale of Bloody New York on repeat every fifteen minutes.

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New Music: Heads We Dance

It's an unwritten rule of blogging that if somebody emails you out of the blue saying "hi mate, love the site its relly good we are a band you might like and hear is our new single ITS LIKE LADY GAGA ONLY BRILLAINT!", the chances are they have made a record that sounds like a rabid dog brutally raping a family of stoats.

So imagine my surprise when UK electro-pop act Heads We Dance sent me their latest, Take My Picture, and it was actually listenable.

If you can imagine N-Dubz raised on a diet of The Human League, then you can imagine this song. If you have an imagination deficit, here is the video to help you along.

Heads We Dance - Take My Picture

The single is out this week, and here are some other things that better-informed websites have said about Heads We Dance, which I have diligently pasted from their MySpace page.

"HEADS WE DANCE are pushing all the right buttons...speaker gold dust" - Mixmag

"The twisted offspring of an illicit threeway between French disco, pop, and forward thinking electro, they could be the act this country needs to give the French elite some homegrown competition." 9/10 – Recommended – iDJ Magazine

"Pioneering" - The Independent

So there you go.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Huge, throbbing #!$%$#@!*

Despite their reputation for dinner party trip-hop, Massive Attack have always been stubbornly uncompromising. They twisted Madonna's playboy sexuality into something gloomy and depraved on her cover of Marvin Gaye's I Want You, and smothered Shara Nelson's honeyed vocals with the paranoid chatter of the inner city on Unfinished Sympathy.

Their new record, Paradise Circus, is the sonic equivalent of dirty bed linen. The sultry strings and languid handclaps are underpinned by a pulsing bass so filthy, it can only be interpreted as a pace-setter for one of Sting's marathon rumpo sessions.

Hope Sandoval, on vocal duties, barely has to raise her voice above a whisper, so seductive is the backing track. But, of course, her purring come-ons only make matters worse. Not that the lyrics are particularly filthy. In the era of Britney Spears offering her fans a threesome and Katy Perry snogging up her ladyfriends, this is positively chaste. But see if you can listen to it without lossening your collar.

The video, however, has none of this subtlety. It is full of extremely graphic shots from vintage porn films - intercut with an interview with a grandmother who is reminiscing about her career as a prostitute and adult film star. It's great, powerful stuff, but it's not for family consumption. Unless your family name is Fritz.

The full, uncensored clip is available on the Brooklyn Vegan or Stereogum blogs. But, please, swallow whatever you're eating before you click those links. I don't want anyone choking and suing me.

* bassline, you perv

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Strictly Come Cheryl Cole

Another bit of above average video from the weekend - Cheryl's inaugural performance of Parachute, in a ball gown, on primetime television.

Se-VEN! Etc.

Cheryl Cole - Parachute

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X Factor, the verdict

Let's just pretend that the last 17 weeks never happened. Then we can all imagine that this performance, the one by JLS and Alexandra Boink, was the real culmination of X Factor 2009 - and pop will be the winner.

JLS and Alexandra - Bad Boys Beat Again or something

Seriously, though. Is there any possibility that Tight Trousers and Mr Teeth can top this in 2010?

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Conchords ground their flights

Sad news - Flight Of The Conchords have decided not to make a third (or fourth, or fifth, or sixth) series of their HBO musicomedy series.

A statement posted on the band's official website said: "We’ve noticed the less we say about the future of the show, the more people want to talk about it, so in an effort to reverse this trend we are today announcing that we won’t be returning for a 3rd season.

"We’re very proud of the two seasons we made and we like the way the show ended. We’d like to thank everyone who helped make the show and also everyone who watched it.

"While the characters Bret and Jemaine will no longer be around, the real Bret and Jemaine will continue to exist."

In a way, we're happy. The second series wasn't as quotable, or as likely to reduce us to fits of tittery giggles, as the first. But even when they weren't firing on all cylinders, Flight Of The Conchords managed to rescue the comedy song genre from the likes of Katy "stating the obvious" Brand, Chris "tedious wordplay" Moyles and Peter "these aren't jokes, they're stories I heard down the pub" Kay. Long may their influence last.

Flight Of the Conchords - In Love With A Sexy Lady

Flight Of The Conchords - Business Time

Flight Of The Conchords - Jenny

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Above / below average indie song

You know how quantum theory says an electron can simultaneously exist in two separate states ("no" - 99.9% of the world). Well, that's how I feel about today's featured video.

On the one hand, it's a boring, derivative indie song. On the other, I've listened to it three times in a row and the chorus is rattling round my head like a loose ball bearing in a washing machine.

At first glance, the hair styling is reminiscent of A Flock Of Seagulls after a night sleeping rough. Look again, and the lead singer is quite dashing, in a Roger Moore in The Persuaders kind of way.

In the "for" column, they are real musicians, playing real instruments. In the "against" column, the timing is all over the shop.

The band is called Frankie And The Heartstrings - again, this is either brilliant or offensively naff - and they are currently supporting Florence and the Machine on tour.

Have a look at the video and see which way it makes your electrons spin.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mini gig review: Alicia Keys

There's nothing like a record industry freebie to illustrate how certain performers feel a sense of entitlement and superiority over us peasants.

Last night, as Alicia Keys took to the stage in London, all the celebrities who'd been hanging back in the VIP section looking cool ran headlong for the stage in an undignified helter-skelter bargefest, all wearing the same "I deserve this, for I am better than you" expression. Imagine being pushed aside by Chipmunk. Chipmunk! The shame, the shame, the shame.

Anyway, this isn't all about me (he says, writing a blog and talking about himself in the third person). All the stars - from JLS to Dizzee Rascal to Will Young - wanted to be that little bit closer to Alicia, because she actually possesses that poise and authenticity they were busy trying to cultivate at the bar.

The only genuine soul star to emerge in the 2000s, she is self-aware enough to mock her supposed diva stature, arriving on stage with the announcement: "Hello London! Thank you for welcoming me to London! ...We are in London, right?". But she also knows enough about working the crowd to change the words of Empire State Of Mind (her version, not the Jay-Z one) to "Now we're in Londoooon!". Cue instant and humungous cheers.

I was surprised by her stage presence, though. Keys has always seemed somewhat inscrutable - distant, even - as a performer. But last night, she came alive, spinning around like a cowgirl during a reggaefied You Don't Know My Name, and leading a gutsy sing-along during the "woah-ah-oh-oh-ohhhh" coda to No-One.

Equally at home behind the piano, she trilled out the new single, Doesn't Mean Anything, and the evening's highlight, If I Ain't Got You - essentially a duet between Keys and a section in the middle of the audience who abandoned all sense of melody in favour of JUST SHOUTING THE WORDS VERY LOUDLY IN CASE SHE'D TEMPORARILY FORGOTTEN THEM.

Keys declared the whole evening to be "really fun" but barely stuck around for half an hour - perhaps because the claustrophbic, sweltering heat threatened to detune her piano. And she'd barely said her goodbyes before the "celebs" turned round and stampeded for the exit, arms flailing and manners once again forgotten (they'd been promised free food).

Then Alesha Dixon shared her ice cream with us, and restored our faith in humanity forever.

The End.

New York State Of Mind Pt II
Doesn't Mean Anything
Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart
If I Ain't Got You
You Don't Know My Name

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Florence duets with En Vogue

This video, created to promote entirely unnecessary music streaming service Myspace Music, adds very little of substance or material value to the world. But listening to Florence and the Machine singing along to a CD copy of En Vogue's Don't Let Go will send shivers down your spine. And isn't that what music is all about at the end of the day? (Hint: Yes)

PS: Do you like how I've had to embed this video from a rival site after MySpace tagged the video "private". Way to promote your new service, News International!

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Rihanna on Saturday Night Live

Okay, okay, I'm like five days late with this - but in my defence, Rihanna's album is so terrifyingly bad that I'd mentally screened out any references to her for the last fortnight. This sketch, however, is mildly amusing.

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Kid Cudi teams up with MGMT

In retrospect, an album about broken hearts, insomnia, alienation, night terrors and cold sweats was never going to be the year's biggest seller - but Kid Cudi's debut is well worth checking out. The Ohian rapper is a keen wordsmith, and his woozy backing tracks hover giddily in that twilight zone between wake and sleep.

His new single, Pursuit Of Happiness, features shape-shifting psychedelia meisters MGMT. Not that you'd know from the video.

KiD CuDi - Pursuit of Happiness

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jack Frost nipping at your toes

Last week, I got sent about half-a-dozen Christmas singles by mid-ranking indie bands who all said something along the lines of, "yes, we have recorded a Christmas song but the surprising and totally original twist is that the lyrics are really dark and talk about families fighting / being alone during the holiday / holocaust and suicide" (these are all genuine, by the way).

There really is nothing more pathetic than someone trying to cash in on Christmas by pretending to hate it, is there? If it's all so doomy and bleak and depressing, and you're so clever and authentic, why have you put fucking jingle bells all over the track? For the love of God, don't tell me it's irony, or I will come round to your house and personally fill your stockings with coal, then make you walk to the North Pole in them and apologise to Santa. Got it? Got it? Great. Thank you.

Now, with that out of the way, let's listen to a seasonal song that isn't pandering to questionable assumptions of musical credibility. It comes courtesy of winsome folk faerie Laura Marling, who is going to charm us with some actual, pure poetry - particularly the line, "winter was on us, at the end of my nose".

There's also some stuff in there about running away from a failed relationship, I grant you, but the ultimate sentiment of the song is that winter (particularly the English winter) is beautiful, no matter what's happening at home. It's Laura's ability to take a step back from the subject and use it as the backdrop for universal, human emotions that sets her apart. It also helps that she has written a beautiful piece of music.

The single is out next week, but here's an acoustic performance from Marc Riley's 6 Music show to tide you over til then.

:: Laura Marling - Goodbye England

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Sound of the future...

The BBC revealed the longlist for its annual "sound of" poll this morning and it's well worth checking out the nominees. Unlike previous years, there's some out-there experimental stuff nestling up against the amazing, chart-bound sounds of Ellie Goulding, Stornoway, Delphic and my current obsession, Marina and the Diamonds.

Giggs, a South London rapper with a proper actual criminal record, is probably going to sell as many records as Speech "even my own reflection isn't aware I have a record out" Debelle. More interesting (to me) is Gold Panda, a sort of one-man Go Team on beta blockers. He is quite literally called Derwin, and he rummages through bins and damp cardboard boxes in charity shops to find weird samples for his trippy sound collages.

Check out a few of his songs and remixes using this handy little thingummy that plays you some of his songs and remixes by the power of internet magic. I particularly recommend the rejigged version of Chrome's On It. If you press the right buttons in the right order, you can even download them as MP3s. Fancy that.

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Janet on the X Factor

I'm still trussed up in a sling (boo!) but I had to make a few quick observations about Janet on the X Factor...

:: They were pre-recorded "as live" vocals - but who, other than Janet, would go to the trouble of pre-recording laughter then miming to it? Sheer class.

:: Twitter was not really anamoured by the whole shebang (my favourite comment from @darrenwaters: "It's like watching an aerobics class for the over 60s in Florida).

:: The goofy face she pulled at the end of the performance was adorable.

:: I'm not sure who advised her to wear a blue babygro, but they should be scared for their job this morning.

:: I actually thought her performance blew Lady GaGa out of the (bath)water, but I'm probably not the most objective commentator.

Someone who doesn't know how to work the aspect ratio button on their TV has uploaded the performance o Youtube (Youtube) - but you might want to watch it on the X Factor site instead.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

New music: Brother Ali

The blog might be a bit light on text for the next week, as I've temporarily lost the use of my left hand due to a collision between my bicycle and the milky bar kid (don't worry, he's okay). I can still copy and paste with my "good" hand, though, so here's a new discovery for you: Brother Ali - a legally blind, albino rapper from Minneapolis. His single, Fresh Air, has all the slinky funk chops you'd expect of an artist hailing from the twin cities and, yes, he namechecks Prince. Good boy.

There's no video as far as I can tell, but this live performance - from local radio station The Current - is just lovely.

Brother Ali - Fresh Air

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Vampire Weekend: The making of Cousins

Production company Hammer & Tongs are best known in the UK for two things:

1) The animated milk carton Blur's Coffee & TV video.
2) Making a complete pig's ear of the Hitchhiker's Guide film.

However, they've also created a (great) British coming-of-age comedy called Son Of Rambow, and eye-catching, anarchic TV ads for everyday products like Pot Noodle and PG Tips. Their calling cards are bright colours, gentle nostalgia and downright silliness. Every single frame they shoot is crammed full of lovingly crafted, blink-and-you'll-miss-it visual asides (watch the window in this Christmas Pudding commercial and you'll see what I mean).

Anyway, they've returned to music video to create the new Vampire Weekend promo. I'm not overly fussed on the song, but the carnival-in-a-back-alley film clip is a feast for the eyes. Better still are the two "proof of concept" videos Hammer & Tongs put together to convince the band to hire them. All three are below.

Cousins - Test Clip One

Cousins - Test Clip Three

Vampire Weekend - Cousins

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