Friday, July 30, 2010

You keep my secrets, hope to die

Here is a little too much information about new New Zealand band, The Naked And Famous.

:: The Naked and Famous are Thom Powers and Alisa Xaya.

:: They met while studying at Auckland’s music school MAINZ, and promptly dropped out, formed a band, signed a record deal and recruited three other musicians.

:: Their name comes from a lyric in Tricky's song, The Tricky Kid, which they claim represents "cynicism towards the idea of being a 'rock star'".

:: Which is just as well, because they are neither naked nor famous.

:: Each member had a very different reaction to Ice Age 3.

Naked and Famous. They are neither.

:: Nepotism alert! Drummer Jess Wood went to school with Joseph from Temper Trap. The Naked And Famous later blagged a support slot on Temper Trap's Australian tour.

:: They sound similar to Passion Pit. Especially if by "similar to" you mean "exactly like".

:: You can buy a Naked And Famous t-shirt modelled by a young man with lip piercings and tattoos. It is 100% cotton with a double needle bottom hem and sleeve.

:: Their current single, Young Blood, debuted at number one in New Zealand, the first record to do so since Sean Kingston's Beautiful Girls in 2007. The band said they were "pleasantly surprised".

:: The song is getting a UK release on tiny trendy label Neon Gold on 6th September, if you'd like to hold a copy in your hands.

:: Here is the video.

The Naked And Famous - Young Blood

Want more? Here is their MySpace page.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lissie's unbearably cute mini-me video

Lissie - sultry

Let's not beat around the bush here: I fucking love Lissie's debut album, Catching A Tiger.

I am making this unequivocal statement because, last time I wrote about Lissie, I compared her to Sheryl Crow, which some people interpreted as being negative (it wasn't).

The Californian singer's new single Cuckoo is the song that cemented that comparison for me. With chords as wide as the open road, and a whisky-soured rites of passage lyric, the chorus features the line: "I fell in love with being defiant, in a pick up truck that roared like a lion" - which isn't a million miles away from Crow's: "I spent the best part of my losing streak in an Army Jeep, from what I can recall" (from Run, Baby, Run).

The video picks up the older-but-not-necessarily-wiser theme, starring a miniature version of the bespeckled Lissie learning the art of rebellion.

Lissie - Cuckoo

The single is out on 30th August in the UK.

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How many factual errors can you squeeze into three paragraphs?

Let's ask the news desk at top British tabloid, The Mirror, who have been reporting on Kanye West's latest escapades.

A story from a newspaper

1) Kanye West has not filmed a new video.
2) His latest single is called Power, not Mama's Boyfriend.
3) The footage The Mirror's crack team of reporters refers to appeared on YouTube, not Facebook.
4) It was, however, filmed during an impromptu performance Facebook's headquarters in Palo Alto, California. On a mobile phone.
5) There is no boardroom in the Spice Girls' Wannabe video.

Kanye West premieres Mama's Boyfriend at Facebook HQ

Full marks to everyone concerned.

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Feel free to skip the preamble and go straight to the video of the hot girl assassin

Sit, Ubu, sitBeing really good at your job must be a real pain in the backside. Not only would you be irritated by everyone else Constantly Doing It Wrong, but they'd ostracise you for making them look bad in front of the boss.

Mark "E" Everett has that problem. As the lynchpin of Eels, he's seen various band members come and go, all while churning out an endless stream of peerless indie-pop from his bedroom. The problem is, he's become almost too good at it.

Take, for example, his new song Spectacular Girl. If I had written this, I'd be over the moon. It's honest, heartwarming, catchy and tender - a perfect example of the suburban love song. But in the context of the Eels' past output - tracks like Susan's House or Your Lucky Day In Hell - it feels slight. Dashed off, even.

I suspect that the secrets of songwriting have, with years of practice, become second nature to E - to the extent that he can complete a song within hours of the initial idea popping into his head. Set up the drum machine, sketch out the verse, add a rise before the chorus, switch around the chord structure for the middle eight, double track the vocals, add strings for emphasis, tap it three times with the magic wand and, Izzy Wizzy Let's Get Busy, a finished single!

But if you come to rely too heavily on these tricks, you're in danger of stagnating. One of the most successful songwriters of the last 30 years, Jimmy Jam, says that he buys a new keyboard every time he starts working on a project. That way, he's forced onto the back foot. Learning new software and playing with new sounds leads to mistakes, which leads to discoveries, which leads to innovation.

(There's probably a lesson in there for any of us who've been stuck in the same job for too long...)

This is kinda sorta the message of the video for Spectacular Girl. It stars a secretary who is stifled by her job, and takes up night work that harnesses her hidden talents (one of those talents is the ability to change into skintight leather trousers during a 15-storey elevator ride, which is probably enough to get you your own reality show these days.)

It looks like this:

Eels - Spectacular Girl

The Eels' new album - Tomorrow Morning - is out on 24 August. It's their third in 12 months, which should really make Kate Bush feel ashamed of herself.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Kylie won't leave the Scissor Sisters alone

Pint-sized pop pixie Kylie "Kylie" Minogue joined the Scissor Sisters on stage again last night in Melbourne.

Together, they performed the bluegrass country version of All The Lovers that the Scissors premiered on Radio One last month.

Kylie and the Scissor Sisters - All The Lovers

Teacher's note: I shall be forced to confiscate Ana Matronic's shaker unless she shows a marked improvement over the next term.

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New Hurts video for old Hurts song

Cheer up, twatbagsThe whole Hurts campaign has been a bit of a mystery to me. What is it with all the ballerinas? Why has Ingmar Bergman been exhumed to direct all of their videos? Why are they trying so desperately hard to look like the Pet Shop Boy Juniors?

Anyway, the grinding tedium of their self-important "image" aside, the band have some quite good songs. Wonderful Life is one of them. And, having received a limited release last year, it's coming out properly on 23 August.

This calls for a new video. It features a swimming pool, some architecture and - you guessed it - ballerinas.

The band sneakily allowed people to embed it earlier this week, then changed their minds, leading to lots of pop blogs with broken black boxes on their front page.

I'm not falling for that trick, so here's a picture of the artwork (caution: pretentious). If you click on it, you will be transported magically to the safe arms of YouTube to see the clip "in full".

A man stands on the edge of an unfinished motorway flyover, pondering his existence in a world where technology has alienated us from OH GET OVER YOURSELVES

If you liked that song (welcome back!) you should also try the superior Arthur Baker remix and the above-average Freemasons dance reswizzle.

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File under 'experimental'

Get a haircut, hippy21-year-old Will Wiesenfeld is creating a bit of a stir in the States, with his trippy, experimental pop music. It's got all the glitchy beats and fractured atmospherics of Bjork or Radiohead, married to the lilting croonery of D'Angelo.

Going under the pseudonym "Baths", the mutton-chopped multi-instrumentalist samples everything from pen clicks to the sound of running water but, crucially, his compositions hang together like proper songs. There's structure, melody and harmony amidst all that techno tomfoolery - and it's frequently beautiful.

His latest single is called Lovely Bloodflow, and it sounds like this.

Baths - Lovely Bloodflow

I also find myself entranced by this video of Baths performing an earlier track, Plea, using a laptop and what appears to be a futuristic cash register.

Baths - Plea

There's tons more of this stuff over on Baths' official MySpace page. Remember MySpace? Whatever happened to that?

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Am Arrows - don't avoid them because they used to be in Razorlight

Or, to put it another way: I deliberately didn't listen to I Am Arrows because singer-songwriter Andy Burrows used to be the drummer in Razorlight, then I chanced across their debut single on the radio and thought "why haven't I heard this before?"

I have only my own prejudices and ignorance to blame. Don't make the same mistakes I did, son.

I Am Arrows - Green Grass

(NB: Stick around til the chorus)

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Robyn update: Robyn still amazing

Key scenes in the spanking new video for Hang With Me.

:: Geekery! Robyn plays the drums on her bed.
:: Calamity! Robyn nearly runs over some horses
:: Adrenaliney! Robyn on a rollercoaster

Robyn - Hang With Me

Totally brilliant. The end.

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Hip-hop video convention smashed

Kid Sister misunderstood when the photographer suggested taking "the money shot"Here's the latest video from utterly brilliant / completely underrated hip-hop star Kid Sister. Filmed in and around her stomping grounds in downtown Chicago, "she makes it pop from the roller rink to the Superdawg" (it says here).

In blatant contravention of the Golden Rules Of Rap Videos, Kid Sister spends the entire three minutes with a smile on her face. Not once does she shower herself in money, disembark from a helicopter, crack open a bottle of champagne or drive slowly past a police car, giving the cops a disrespectful glare. What on earth is she thinking?

The song - Big N Bad - isn't my favourite track from her debut album, Ultraviolet, but it is the most obviously commercial. Structured around a hyperactive, replayed sample of Yazoo's Don't Go (note to Professor Green: This is how it's done properly) it will undoubtedly spark a fist-pumping three minutes of mayhem at a beach party near you this summer.

Kid Sister - Big N Bad

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Friday, July 23, 2010

That Alesha Dixon single "in full"

It was on Radio One and then it was on YouTube (YouTube) and now it is on this website. The modern world, eh?

Alehsa Dixon - Drummer Boy

Alesha has just opened a Twitter account at @aleshaofficial. We're looking forward to seeing how she transcribes that mad, cackling laugh.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Nicki Minaj vs Annie Lennox. Lennox wins.

According to some, Nicki Minaj is one of the most thrilling new talents in US hip-hop. Over the last 12 months, she's stolen thunder from such experienced divas as Mariah and Christina in a string of filth-strewn cameos - and now she's heading for the mainstream in her own right.

Her new single, Your Love, is a bit of a curate's egg, however. While previous releases have been hard as her expertly manicured nails, this is built around Annie Lennox's icy ballad No More I Love You's.

The lyrics are below her usual standard, too. The chorus, in particular, suffers from a ridiculously tortured pun: "For your lovin' I would die hard like Bruce Willis". (It could have been worse, I suppose: "For you I was Bourne like Matt Damon".)

There's a reason for the mis-step - Your Love was never supposed to see the light of day.

"I was not planning on putting the song out at all," Minaj told MTV a couple of weeks ago.

"But then I heard it one day, somebody told me it was online and I was like, 'No way, no way in the world that song is out.' I went and listened to it and was really upset. It wasn't mixed, it wasn't finished, it wasn't anything — I wasn't gonna use it at all. But then radio started playing it."

The record went on to hit number one in the US Rap charts - the first time a woman had topped the countdown since Missy Elliot in 2002.

So, quality control issues aside, this looks like it'll be the launchpad for Minaj's career. Just don't say that it sounds like PM Dawn or she'll come round to your house and bite your face off.

Nicki Minaj - Your Love

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sneak peek: New Alesha Dixon

Gonna make you sweat

Alesha Dixon's journey through pop has had more ups and downs than a trampoline but - bless her heart - she keeps plugging away at it.

She's got a new single coming out on the 23rd of August. It's called Drummer Boy and, if this snippet is anything to go by, it's a right old racket.

So, what do reckon? Hit, miss or just outside the top 10, so not exactly a disaster but hardly the stuff careers are made of?

Answers in the comments box, please.

Update 22/7/10 Popjustice has a longer, better clip, which suggests this song is genuinely magnificent. Hooray!

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Robyn performs on Letterman

Digging the dual drumming.

Robyn - Dancing On My Own (live)

Nice to see Rufus Hound on the keyboards, too.

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Thom Yorke goes dubstep

"Ladies, let's get naughty,
Get drunk on this hypnotic,
If you want shag then we got it
Then let me wind up on it."

These are not, let's face it, the sort of lyrics you'd assosciate with Thom "I really am quite concerned about the state of the modern world" Yorke. There's a simple explanation, though: He didn't write them.

They're lines from a song called Jump Up, by Italian house duo Crookers, featuring Major Lazer (ie Switch and Diplo of producing-MIA-and-Robyn "fame").

Yorke's contribution is to have remixed the song for a Major Lazer EP, which came out yesterday. In the process, he transforms it from a big dumb party record into something altogether more intriguing.

The full Major Lazer EP can be streamed on MySpace.

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Surprisingly good demo alert

Lawks-a-lordy it's Talay RileyPing! A demo track by new recording artiste Talay Riley has just landed in my inbox. You might have seen him supporting N-Dubz on their recent UK tour, but don't hold that against him, everybody has to make a living somehow.

Anyway, young Mr Riley (he's just 19) has signed a deal with Jive Records, home of such stellar artists as Britney, JLS, Justin Timberlake and Outkast. Of course, Jive also has Apocalyptica, Raheem DeVaughn and Hot Chelle Rae on their roster, so it could go either way, but I reckon Talay is destined for big things. Here's why:

1) His sound, described by a PR as "really futuristic urban pop", is so achingly current that it's given me a migraine.
2) He has been working with Ryan Tedder (Bleeding Love) and Claude Kelly (My Life Would Suck Without You).
3) He is not exactly a minger.

If I was being cruel, I would point out that Talay is basically a slightly-less-irritating clone of Taio Cruz. But there is one crucial difference.

Talay Riley
Talay: Arms up

Taio Cruz
Taio: Arms down

This critical, focus-grouped decision on limb elevation will undoubtedly help Talay stand out in a crowded market. His songs may also do the trick. Here is that demo I mentioned, called Heartbreaker.

Not bad at all.

Talay's first official single, Humanoid, comes out later this year. Until then, he's keeping busy by working on the new albums by JLS, Jamie Foxx and Tinie Tempah (it says here).

Consider yourselves warned.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Robyn: Hang With Me (Single mix)

Robyn, "I will box your ears"Robyn is one of those chameleon-like artists who records multiple versions of her songs. For example, With Every Heartbeat - one of the most amazing dance records in the history of recorded sound - was also interpreted as a haunting acoustic lament. Same goes for Be Mine. In essence, Robyn is very good at writing upbeat pop songs that coincidentally sound brilliant when sung by a person shedding tears onto a Steinway.

So, when I heard the stripped-back piano ballad Hang With Me on her new album, Body Talk Pt.1, my spider-senses started tingling (I got them when I was bitten by a radioactive spider with a PhD in pop). Sure enough, here is a gargantuan electro remix, ready to pounce on the charts like a hungry panther.

What is it with the animal metaphors today?

Robyn - Hang With Me (single version)

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"No more sleeping in bed"

BlaxploitationI spent a large part of the 1990s collecting the fabulous Blaxploitation compilation CDs. Subtitled "soul, jazz and funk from the inner city", they were a sublime introduction to the gritty, atmospheric soundtrack of 1970's ghetto America.

They're sadly out of print now* but among the highlights was Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes' Wake Up Everybody, a Philly soul companion piece to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, sung with croaky indignation by Teddy Pendergrass.

The song got a long overdue airing at the World Cup when John Legend (remember him?) and The Roots played it at the closing ceremony. The good news is that they've recorded it properly, too, and it'll be the title track of a collaborative covers album later this year.

The studio version features some beautifully heartfelt vocals from Melanie Fiona and a soft-as-butter rap by Common, who calls the track "a song as sweet as the Psalms".

Amen, brother.

John Legend feat The Roots, Melanie Fiona and Common - Wake Up Everybody

Kanye West has put the track on his website, should you fancy downloading a copy. Alternatively you can wait until Wake Up, the album, comes out on 21st September.

* Although Amazon has the final, three-CD roundup for a bargainacious £2.99

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Monday, July 19, 2010

An outbreak of common sense

There's a strange thing happening in the music industry at the minute - bands are scrapping complete albums with the acquiesence of their record companies.

Off the top of my head the list includes The Scissor Sisters, Eminem, Massive Attack, Daisy Dares You and The Hoosiers. Both the Scissors and the Hoosiers have gone on the record as saying they abandoned the finished tracks with the full support of their label, who could have made a quick buck by releasing the existing material (and who would have to fund further studio sessions).

PolkaNu-rave pioneers The Klaxons could claim to have started the trend, having taken three years to follow up their award-winning debut, Myths Of The Near Future. The fly in the ointment is that they were actually instructed to re-record the album after turning in a "dense, psychedelic" (ie rubbish) master tape.

This has all turned out for the best, as the band's new single Echoes is really rather good indeed. Built on the solid foundations of Golden Skans, it kicks off with 15 seconds of feedback before blasting into space with a kinetic, piano-driven riff.

The lyrics are the usual spooky rubbish about other worlds and "the ninth wave" - but The Klaxons also deploy the word "liminal", which the dictionary defines as a sensory threshold. I think this refers to the feeling of being desperate for the loo but having to hold back your wee.

Klaxons - Echoes

Meanwhile: Here's the artwork for The Klaxons new album, Surfing The Void.

Klaxons art

Surely this would have been better?

Oh Hai

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Friday, July 16, 2010

M.I.A. - Critical meltdown

Check my froThere's a quite extraordinary interview with M.I.A.'s producer, Diplo, over on the Black Book website.

The US DJ, who has worked on all three of M.I.A.'s albums, says the star "didn’t care" about her new record, "didn’t write anything" in the studio, and has "a bunch of yes men around her". Ouch.

The interview comes in the wake of lukewarm reviews for /\/\/\Y/\, which was released on Monday. Several critics have bemoaned a lack of progression in the singer's culture-busting, genre-splicing soundclash style. But I suspect most of them are peeved because she refused to make an entire album of radio-friendly hits like Paper Planes.

That controversial album "in full"My favourite critique came from the All Music Guide, who wrote: "There are moments during MAYA when it seems like M.I.A.'s next move might involve walking into a laundromat, filling the dryers with bricks and silverware, pulling the fire alarm, blaring a drop-forge beat from a tinny boombox, and recording the result."

It's true - but it was also true of her first two records, so why gripe?

Musically, I think the album is great. It scampers back and forth over the (very wide) line that divides sachharine pop melodies from a full-blown intercontinental nuclear assault on your ears.

XXXO, It Takes A Muscle and Teqkilla are shocking, exhilirating and experimental, but they all have tunes your milkman could whistle. Or, to be more precise, tunes your milkman could scream through a loudhailer if he had tourettes.

My problem, therefore, is with the lyrics.

M.I.A. peddles a constant stream of post-millennial paranoia so myopic and blinkered it would make 9/11 conspiracy theorists a little uneasy in their tin foil hats. If we take her word for it, everything bad in the world is a result of Government Control and Corrupt Politicians. At one point, she deliberately mis-pronounces Obama as "a bomber". Ooooh, controversial.

MIA - she's got something to sayIt's not hard to guess the root of her neurosis. M.I.A. grew up in the middle of Sri Lanka's bitter, ongoing civil war. The conflict has been bloody and the tactics morally murky (on both sides). Suspicion is ingrained into her psyche.

But I also grew up in the middle of a conflict - in Northern Ireland - and I learnt a very different lesson: People with strong, immutable opinions are either (a) clowns or (b) clowns exploiting extremism to further their own goals.

So it might be a defence mechanism, but when I heard M.I.A. intoning: "Arm bone connects to the handbone, hand bone connects to the internet, connected to the Google, connected to THE GOVERNMENT" in a voice laden with portent and drama, I laughed so hard I got a hernia.

Anyway, if you put the words to one side (and to be honest, most of the time they're so muddled and processed you can't make them out anyway) you're left with a great album.

Let's just take one more listen to Born Free, as performed with an army of clones on a mainstream US television show:

M.I.A. - Born Free (David Letterman)


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An open letter to Take That

Dear Gaz, Raz, Maz, Jaz and Howaz,

I will only pay attention to your collaborative album effort if you dig out the clothes you wore between 1990 and 1995 and use them for all future public appearances as a band.

Best wishes,

Could It Be Magic

Relight My Fire


PS: It would also be acceptable to resurrect those haircuts.
PPS: But don't try to play Smells Like Teen Spirit ever, ever again.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Oh no, I've caught a "viral"

Good old Dolby. It used to exist for the sole purpose of suppressing the "hiss" on cassette tapes. In the 1980s, audiophiles spent huge amounts of money on Dolby processing units like this one, but pressing the "Double D" button on my dad's stereo just made everything sound like it was coming from inside a cardboard box. So, like a pantomime villain, I endured the hisses... until 10 years of drumming masked it with the high-pitched whine of tinnitus.

These days, Dolby Laboratories mostly concentrate on surround sound systems in cinemas and home theatres. They've also just developed a "virtual surround" technology for mobile phones.

We've been here before: Q Sound promised quadrophonic stereo from two regular speakers in the 1990s (the technique was used on Madonna's Immaculate Collection album). Essentially, Q Sound added funny echoes and delays to the music to fool your ears into thinking it was coming from all around you.

The problem was: Our ears are quite sophisticated at pinpointing where sound is coming from. Evolution tends to weed out people whose response to a tiger's roar is to run straight towards the tiger. And so Q Sound sloped away quietly, shortly after Kevin Costner endorsed it for the Robin Hood soundtrack.

I can't see the Dolby system faring any better, but they've produced a mildly diverting video to show off how well it works. Turn up your speakers and have a listen.

Beardyman - Dolbyman

Could you hear anything behind you? Me neither.

Oh my God, is that a...? It can't be, can it? SHIT! TIGER! RUUUUUUUNNNNN.


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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

JLS: Bonus content


JLS's new single The Club Is Alive prompted one user on the Teentoday site to comment: "My ears have acquired Aids as a result of listening to this".

I think that's a bit harsh. As I pointed out two months ago, it's a pretty audacious song for a boyband at this stage in their career. The fact that some people hate it means it's doing the right job. Teeny pop groups should divide the nation. If your mum liked them, they'd be Westlife - and look where that got us.

Anyway, I got to interview the JLS "crew" for my regular job on the BBC News Website. They are just like you'd expect - well-mannered, engaged, polite. But they are also not what you'd expect - intelligent, poised, self-aware.

As usual, there were plenty of tasty morsels that I couldn't squeeze into the BBC write-up, so here are some JLS off-cuts for you to feast upon.

So, you've been recording the second album. Can you tell me what any of the songs are called, or what they sound like?
Aston: Ah, so you want to know all the secrets! Do you know what? Basically, it’s a very mixed album, like the first one. We worked with a lot of the same producers over here and – because of the success of the last album - it opened doors for us to work with other producers and writers in the States as well. People who have written some monster hits for Beyonce, Ne-Yo and Rihanna – across the board they’ve written some amazing songs.

We think we’ve done an amazing job. It’s very JLS. When people do hear the album, they’re going to be very surprised that we’ve written everything but The Club Is Alive. We put our heart, blood, sweat and tears into this album. Poured our souls out.

You've never released a ballad as a single. Why is that?
Oritse: All I can say is “no comment”. I especially can't talk about what we've recorded this week. On Saturday.
JB: We had a ballad on the last album but we didn’t release it as a single. We felt that we wanted to come with something different for the first singles. But you never know.

A lot of girls want to hear a big love song from JLS.
Oritse: We’ve been trying to keep the clubs alive with our music, you know?

That sounds strangely familiar.
Oristse: Yeah! Where did I get that from? But, you know, I think – we had a ballad on the last album that could have been a single, but the way the year went we were only going to release three singles. But this year… we’ll see.

So it'll be out in time for Christmas?
All: Mmmm... Errr...
JB: Are you working on the JLS team? You know more than us.
Aston: Christmas.... Or Valentines. Watch this space.

Read more »

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Listening post: Four very good new songs

There's a ton of good new music floating around at the moment, which is good, given that this is the time of year usually reserved for novelty records and second albums from bands-who-haven't-quite-lived-up-to-expectations.

First up, we have Everything Everything, with a reswizzled version of their sparkly electropop song My Keys, Your Boyfriend.

You might have heard it before, because it was doing the rounds at the end of last year, when the Manchester quartet made the BBC's Sound Of 2010 list. The new version has a new, bigger-budget video, but there's no escaping the fact that the lead singer Jonathan Everything (not his real name, I suspect) looks like an extra from a Guy Ritchie cage-fighting documentary.

Everything Everything - My Kz Ur Bf

Next up, a thumping, Robyn-esque track from Swedish warbler Rosanna.

Built around a huge sample from Siouxsie And The Banshee's Kiss Them For Me, it will literally knock your boots off.

Rosanna - Waterfalls

Waterfalls happens to be the first release on a new record label set up by the Grandaddy of all pop blogs, Popjustice. Bankrolled by Virgin, Popjustice Hi-Fi it looks like it'll be a boutique label in the mode of Neon Gold - with a similarly excellent rosta of artists and singles.

Their second release will be Love Part II, a slyly catchy nugget of synthpop from songwriter extraordinare Rod Thomas. He's remixed Kelis (amazing), written with Nerina Pallot (amazing x2) and named his pop persona after a line from The Gremlins (amazing x ∞).

Bright Light Bright Light aren't putting their single out 'til September, but you can have a listen here and now.

Bright Light Bright Light - Love Part II

Finally, here's the new video from Northern Irish indie kids Two Door Cinema Club. Their kinetic guitar chops trigger nostalgia for my teenage radio show in Belfast (I'm sure the "hilarious" audio clips will make their way onto the site someday).

The programme was supposed to be aimed at trendy, NME-reading students - this was the era of The Charlatans and the Stone Roses - but I stupidly insisted on playing George Michael's Too Funky every week. My infinitely-better-qualified co-presenter would have loved Two Door Cinema Club and I would have been sniffy about them.

In 2010, I can admit I was wrong.

Two Door Cinema Club - Come Back Home

So there you go.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Goulding standard

Starry-Eyed popster Ellie Goulding has just released the video for her heart-rending ballad, The Writer. It features a lighthouse.

Ellie Goulding - The Writer

One thing I've come to realise over the last six months is that Ms Goulding gives a good lyric. Phrases like "kiss me with lightning" and "I wish I could feel it all for you" breathe life into feelings we've all had, but couldn't necessarily express.

She is Ellie Goulding and so is sheThe Writer has a similarly universal sentiment, as Ellie explained to Sky Songs earlier this year. "It's about how you'd do anything and change absolutely everything about yourself if necessary, just to be noticed by this one person."

She must have developed a crush on the girl out of Lionel Richie's Hello video, because she sings: "Why don't you be the artist and make me out of clay?"

I'm not 100% sure what I think of the message here. I mean, we've all massaged the truth at some point to attract a partner: "You like Frappucinos? Oh My God, I love Frappucinos. We're so similar it's freaking me out! Do you want to have sex now?"

But offering to subjugate your entire personality to someone else's whim? Allowing them to dictate your words and your appearance? That's just inviting emotional abuse.

I'm probably taking this all far too seriously. It's just a song, after all. And it's not like Ellie was the first to have this idea.

Abba dealt with the thorny issue of unrequited love for a thoughtless artist back in 1976. And, quite frankly, their take on the matter was much more disturbing.

I can hear how you work, practicing hard
Playing night and day, woah-oh
And it sounds better now
Yes, you improve every time you play, woah-oh
But it's bad
You're so sad
And you're only smiling
When you play your violin

Dum-dum-diddle, to be your fiddle
To be so near you and not just hear you
Dum-dum-diddle, to be your fiddle
I think then maybe you'd see me, baby

The moral here, folks, is that you should avoid relationships with creative types, because they’re all in love with themselves more than they'll ever be in love with you.

And that is the truth.

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Friday, July 9, 2010

New music: Caro Emerald

Caro Emerald's debut album, Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room FloorBoutique record label Dramatico is fast becoming one of my favourite sources of new music.

This year, they've given us Sarah Blasko's fantastic As Day Follows Night, the celestial acoustic meditations of blind Aboriginal singer Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, and that extraordinary Katie Melua remix I wrote about yesterday.

Their latest signing is Dutch pop star Caro Emerald. She's been at number one for 20 weeks in Holland with her debut album Scenes From The Cutting Room Floor, a breathy union of jazz, hip-hop, mambo, swing and pop.

At this point, you're probably thinking: "Oh great, just what the world needs now - another Paloma Faith". It doesn't help that Caro also spends most of her time wearing feathery cocktail hats and fascinators at impossibly jaunty angles, as if she's Clara Bow or something.

Paloma Faith Caro Emerald

But there the comparison ends. Caro is quirkier, and more soulful, than her British counterpart. She's backed by a live band of "proper" jazz musicians, who give her material more sass and bite. Her songs, meanwhile, are insanely catchy.

Her first UK single is Back It Up, a xylophone-powered swing that will have you tapping out rhythms on your steering wheel. Great video, too.

Caro Emerald - Back It Up

Caro has proved handy with the old cover versions, too, as these smoky cabaret interpretations of Mama Do and (inevitably) Bad Romance prove.

Caro Emerald - Mama Do

Caro Emerald - Bad Romance

Back It Up is out on 23rd August, release-date fans.

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

New video: Brandon Flowers - Crossfire

This is probably not Brandon Flowers

I cannot blame Brandon Flowers for repeatedly getting kidnapped by ninjas in the hope that Charlize Theron will turn up and rescue him.

I just wish I'd thought of it first.

Brandon Flowers - Crossfire

Crossfire is out on 23rd August, and Flowers' debut solo album, Flamingo, follows in September.

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Listen to this: Sparks vs Katie Melua

A match made in pop heaven

Pop overlords Sparks have taken their electrical toolkit to Katie Melua's new single, A Happy Place, and created something really quite astonishing.

I have listened to this remix 10 times in a row, and I'm still not sure (a) what I'm hearing, or (b) how to describe what I'm hearing.

It's a beautiful cacophony. A Bontempi organ cycling through it's demo modes. A four-minute wow machine. Alice In Wonderland's tension headache. A swarm of crickets flying through a field of cymbals. The history of pop on a psychedelic roundabout.

A disaster. A triumph. A disastrumph.

Oh, I give up. Listen to the song and draw your own conclusions.

A Happy Place - Sparks Vs. Melua by Katie Melua

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My dog is dead. How does he smell? Terrible

Here is a video by a Nottingham band called Dog Is Dead. It starts off rubbish but bear with it for the saxophone solo, which sounds like a smile.

Dog Is Dead - Glockenspiel Song

I know nothing about Dog Is Dead but, in the interests of journalism, I have looked up a press release and pruned out the boring bits for you:

  • "Dog Is Dead have been enthralling audiences in their hometown of Nottingham."
  • "Skate kids and thespians."
  • "Math rock riffs."
  • "Glorious marriage."
  • "A host of London shows have been confirmed."
    (Editor's note:Two London shows have been confirmed)

  • So now you know all there is to know about Dog Is Dead. I hope you're happy with yourself.

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    Getting sweaty with Arcade Fire

    Arcade Fire at the Hackney Empire

    It's a sign of a great gig when you emerge drenched in sweat (your own and other people's) and you don't care one jot.

    And that's exactly what happened to me last night, as Arcade Fire broke three years of silence with a gig at the Hackney Empire. The audience was so pleased to have them back that they shouted and bounced along to every song in the 18-track set, even though eight of them were brand new.

    Eccentric and intense, the band always come across like they're playing a worship service on the eve of the apocalypse. Their songs shake and reverberate in the manner of a child being exorcised of a pernicious demon. You half expect their between-song banter to be spoken in tongues.

    But no. When he talked to the crowd, a genial Win Butler actually joked about his soundman, who apparently grew up "half a mile away" from the venue, and gently mocked England's World Cup performance.

    His new songs sound more relaxed, too. The post-millennial angst has been dialled down, and the bombastic sturm and drang channelled into straightforward, driving rock riffs. Modern Man and new single We Used To Wait One are direct and radio-friendly.

    That's not to say Arcade Fire have suddenly become Coldplay - they're too dramatic and nuanced for that - but these sound like songs for the open road, rather than the end of days.

    Arcade Fire at the Hackney Empire

    Sadly, though, they've largely abandoned the huge, uplifting "woah-oh" chants that made their old material so much fun to sing along to.

    The show was more professional and focused, too. The light show and video installations were spectacular and the band's prediliction for swapping instruments between every song was more business-like, with short, feedback-fuelled pauses filling in gaps that were once minutes long.

    None of this should suggest that the eight-piece have become all corporate and respectable.

    Regine Chassagne was dressed as a lemon fairy cupcake, while guitarist Richard Reed-Perry wore a fetching white babygro, set off by realistic stab wounds and fake blood. Founder member William Butler, meanwhile, need not fear any changes to his Wikipedia biography, which describes him as being "known for his spontaneity and antics during performances".

    The show came to a head with a rousing, four-song encore: Crown Of Love, Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels), Keep The Car Running and Wake Up. By the last track, the 1,500-strong audience were drowning out the band.

    If Arcade Fire can translate that passion to the charts, their new album could finally herald the big breakthrough they've seemed to be on the cusp of for the last five years.

    Ready To Start
    Modern Man
    No Cars Go
    Empty Room
    The Suburbs
    Suburban War
    We Used To Wait
    Power Out
    Month of May

    Crown Of Love
    Keep The Car Running
    Wake Up

    We Used To Wait

    The Suburbs

    Month Of May

    PS: I wrote a brief news piece over on the BBC website, if you want to read more.

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    Tuesday, July 6, 2010

    Nelly Furtado raids the dress-up box

    No-one seems to have noticed in this country, but Nelly Furtado's Spanish-language album Mi Plan is really very good. If you can find a copy, I suggest giving it a spin - the record's ebullient carnival rhythms sound fantastic in the summer sun.

    Luckily, Nelly has sold enough copies in the rest of the world to justify the release of four singles, each of which have had amazing / barmy videos.

    The latest is Bajo Otra Luz (Under A Different Light), whose title gives Nelly the excuse to put on lots of "hilarious" costumes so that we see her under a different light. Clever, eh?

    Among the highlights are:

    Dorothy from The Wizard Of Oz
    Nelly Furtado as Dorothy

    The Terminator
    Nelly Furtado dressed as a robot

    A confused / foxy cavewoman
    Nelly Furtado dressed as a cavewoman

    Lenny Kravitz
    Nelly Furtado dressed as a clown

    Mel C
    La Mala dressed up as Mel C

    That last shot is actually Spanish hip-hop star La Mala Rodríguez (me neither), who provides a talky bit in the middle. Good for her.

    Nelly Furtado - Bajo Otra Luz

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    Monday, July 5, 2010

    Hands up who thinks writing pop is easy

    John Mellencamp"I don't have to worry about any pop sensibility. I can write adult songs, and I don't have to worry about choruses and hook lines."

    That was John Mellencamp, talking to MTV in 2001 about his important'n'meaningful Cuttin' Heads album.

    I love the arrogance of it. The way he dismisses pop music as childish and incapable of meaning. The assertion that a chorus somehow devalues a song. The belief that difficult, challenging melodies and impenetrable musical interludes are better at evoking the giddy headrush of falling in love than, say, Jackie Wilson's Sweetest Feeling.

    I don't want to write off John Mellencamp (Jack and Diane is a great American rock ballad) but his point of view is wearsomely common.

    Pop music isn't just silly or frivolous or obvious - although it can be all of those things. Pop is also profound (What's Going On), surprising (Hounds Of Love), inventive (Groove Is In The Heart), challenging (Papa Don't Preach), political (Paper Planes), witty (Common People) and mournful (Teardrop).

    It is also incredibly hard to get right.

    If you don't have the indulgence of multiple time signatures, abrupt key changes and suspended 16th notes, you have to wrestle novelty out of the standard four chord sequence... Plenty of people have done it, as this brilliant, age-old internet meme proves, but it requires a lot more discipline than John Mellencamp would have you believe.

    As proof, here are two songs that haven't quite managed to get it right. The first is the Saturday's new single, Missing You, which is the musical equivalent of a post-botox episode of Desperate Housewives. Everything looks like it's in the right place, but you can't shake the eerie feeling that something essential has gone missing.

    The Saturdays - Missing You

    Secondly, we have Sky Ferreira's One. Again, it has all the ingredients of a hit single in 2010: Sparkly synthesizers, a Rankin-directed video, and a lyric concerning robots. But the writers have made the fateful mistake of confusing a production gimmick for a melody, and the whole thing goes flat like a glass of coke in a cupboard.

    Sky Ferreira - One

    Let's clear up this argument once and for all with a quote by all-round genius and pop provocateur Robert Wyatt, who sums up the key point in one perfect sentence.

    "Anybody who thinks pop music's easy should try to make a pop single and find out that it isn't."

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    Friday, July 2, 2010

    A cover version you will like

    Maths, innit

    Lissie - Pursuit Of Happiness (Kid Cudi cover)

    Wasn't that nice? (Answer: Yes).

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    Foal-some Prison Blues

    I am about to embed the video for The Foals' new single, Miami, which is out this week. However, in a change to normal procedure, I suggest you take the following steps.

    1) Press "play".
    2) Quickly open a new tab in your internet browser (CTRL+T)
    3) Read an interesting article while enjoying the lithesome music.
    4) I suggest this piece on Lady Gaga and the Illuminati.
    5) Or this one about how the internet is destroying our attention sp...
    6) You'll probably end up looking at animals with their tongues out instead.
    7) Whatever you do, don't click back to this page until the music ends.

    Ready? Here we go...

    Foals - Miami

    If you do choose to watch the video, you may recognise famed transgender campaigners Calpernia Addams and Glamourous Monique. And some oil. And some blue powder paint.

    If that's what Miami is really like, I'm staying in Brentford.

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    Thursday, July 1, 2010

    This is awesome

    A thing about Kylie's new album

    Kylie has just heard the "lucky blue overcoat" jokeOh, Kylie.

    I do not worship you, nor am I impressed by the whole icon thing you've got going on. I find it weird that a 42-year-old woman's biggest desire is to "live like a princess", especially when you already do live like a princess. Get some perspective.

    I like some of your music, though. The hedonism of Love At First Sight, and the robotic perfection of Can't Get You Out Of My Head are long-standing staples of my running playlists.

    But I also like Finer Feelings - one of the few songs where you sound world-weary and conflicted. It makes you seem a bit more real. Fallible. Human.

    So I was intrigued to read you'd decided to address the "dark period in my life" on your new record, Aphrodite. And when I was lucky enough to receive a promo copy, I stuffed it into the CD player. Here's what I heard:

    "What's the point in living if you don't want to dance?"
    "Put your hands up if you're feeling love tonight"
    "Dance, it's all I wanna do, so won't you dance"

    *Sighs* It was just more of the same old forgettable pop platitudes, plucked from the big book of "will this do?". The music, too, showed no progression from the sanitised dance beats of your last two albums, X and Body Language.

    Somebody get me out of this jewellry boxI started writing a review based on the premise that every track was a faded photocopy of the previous one. I was really quite proud of that metaphor (usually a sign that I'm writing a load of rubbish and should start again, but still)... Then I got to the middle of the record and realised I'd have to put it to one side.

    There's a song called Better Than Today, which wraps your voice around an elastic, meandering groove scattered with acoustic guitars and a brilliantly silly synth line. It stands out by a country mile.

    That segues into the strident, combative title track. "I got soul - you can check", you snarl at your critics. "Did you think I wasn’t real?" Finally - as your old alter-ego Charlene might have said - a bit of spunk.

    It's a shame the album is so front-loaded with Kylie-by-numbers borefests, but thanks for rallying the troops on "side b". Next time round, stop pandering to your fanbase with the dance tracks. They'll come along for the ride no matter what you do, and the rest of us might fall back in love with you again.

    Many thanks,
    (who has definitely not gotten too big for his boots with this post. Nosiree.)

    PS: Before it's released next Monday, you can stream Aphrodite in its entirety on the NPR website. The good stuff starts at 24'34".

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