Monday, January 31, 2011

Hoink: It's Jessie J again

You can't hold back a well-oiled publicity machine genuine talent like Jessie J for long.

Here she is with the official video for Price Tag, which materially contradicts the "I can make one of those expensive videos you like so much" message of her last song. Assuming, of course, that Do It Like A Dude was delivered with the deadpan seriousface of Jon Snow reading a news item about a riot. Which it wasn't. So what are you chatting about?

Jessie J - Price Tag

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Gone but not forgotten: John Barry

Film composer John Barry has died aged 77 after a heart attack. While most of the tributes will rightly focus on his work for James Bond (but not the iconic theme tune, which was written by the famously litigious Monty Norman), I thought it'd be nice to remember another unforgettable pop moment he gave to the world.

Here's Beat Girl by the John Barry Seven - as sampled by... well, see if you can work it out.

John Barry Seven - Beat Girl

A profound and original talent. Rest in peace.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Jessie J - Price Tag (Benny Page Remix)

If you go out tonight and the DJ doesn't play this, he is doing it wrong.

Jessie J - Price Tag (Benny Page Remix) by PurplePR

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Friday, January 28, 2011

"I wonder what your boyfriend thinks about your braces?"

Great pop lyrics don't have to mean anything. In fact, it's better when they don't.

Which of these phrases better evokes the limitless frontiers of the human experience: "I Am The Walrus, goo goo ga-choo" or "I-I-I-I-I Will Always Love You"?

Would you rather live is a world where people say "I'm wearing all my favourite brands, brands, brands" or one where Kimberly Walsh purrs "let's go eskimo"?

Have you ever, like Katy Perry, felt like a plastic bag?

I rest my case.

The quote at the top of this article is from a song called Rill Rill by Brooklyn duo Sleigh Bells (who've been in the studio with Beyoncé this week). Their album, Treats, is 40 minutes of bonkers noisepop, crammed with lyrical non-sequiturs and thrilling riffs. Mostly, it sounds like Concorde crash-landing on a field of wasps - but on Rill Rill they reign in the distortion for three minutes and go all sexy.

At least, I think it's supposed to be sexy. There's a blissed-out, post-coital allure to singer Alexis Krauss' vocals - but she's singing about weathermen, fist fights and tarot cards.

The kitschy video, which appears to have been directed by Robert "Grindhouse" Rodriguez, doesn't shed any light on the song's meaning. But it does feature a bleeding telephone, which is something.

Sleigh Bells "Rill Rill"

If Beyoncé's next album sounds anything like this it will be amazing in capital letters.

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Robyn in "makes terrible song" shocker

It's been, what, five weeks since we last had some new material from Robyn so this new song, which hit the internet on Wednesday, is massivley overdue. STOP SLACKING, CARLSSON, WE HAVE A POP DEFICIT.

Bad Gal is a collaboration with Diplo-affiliated dance act Savage Skulls & Douster. It sounds like Flight Of The Conchords doing Reel 2 Reel. And not in a good way.

Savage Skulls & Douster ft Robyn - Bad Gal

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Lykke Li's new video, a scholarly analysis

Hello Lykke Li, and thank you for submitting your new video I Follow Rivers to Youtube. We have some feedback that you may be interested in.

:: The song is excellent. Congratulations.
:: Is that a djembe you're playing in the verses? We love a djembe, you see.
:: You look like Michelle Pfeiffer in Witches Of Eastwick. "Mi" and, indeed, "aow".

:: The two-minute wait for the chorus. That's an eternity on radio.
:: Put your shoes back on. You'll catch a chill.
:: It's all a bit Seventh Seal, isn't it?
:: You're going to get a rash if you keep snogging that beardy man so vigorously.

Thank you for time.

Lykke Li - I Follow Rivers

PS: If you enjoyed that, there is also a fantastic remix by indie lynchpin Dave Sitek. It sounds a little something like this.

Lykke Li - I Follow Rivers (Dave Sitek Remix) by LykkeLi

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

If you only watch one video today...

...It should be the new single from Metronomy.

You know when you're flying through the sky on a stallion made of orangeade and you think to yourself "this can't actually be happening?" You're suddenly aware you're in a dream, but you're enjoying yourself so much that you avoid waking up, so you can enjoy the fake feeling of the fake breeze rustling through the fake mane of your fake stallion (who is called Steve and speaks Portuguese).

This video tickles the same pleasure sensors in your skull. It is set in a dream (natch) and, although Steve is sadly absent, there's a ton of visual goodies to compensate: Stuffed cats, reverse Jenga and a human domino rally. It must have been a right pain in the arse to film.

The directors are French prodigys Jul & Mat. The song is called She Wants. The video looks like this.

Metronomy - She Wants

Well done, everybody.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Who or what are Those Dancing Days?

As I am too lazy to write my own review of Swedish girl band Those Dancing Days, I decided to set a task for the hive mind of the internet.

I went to Google and typed in two search phrases - "Those Dancing Days" and "Those Dancing Days +Review". Here are the 50 most commonly recurring words from the first page of results.

So what have we learned?

:: Those Dancing Days are a "Swedish" band from "Sweden" who made an "album" of "music".

:: The internet has correctly identified the presence of band members Mimmi, Rebecka, Cissi and Linnea, but not the keyboard player, Lisa. Poor Lisa :(

:: Those Dancing Days have "played" the "guitar", and their music is "good".

I think we can all agree that this has been a triumph for journalism.

Anyway, while we ponder the death of the English language as a descriptive tool, let's take a look at Those Dancing Days' new single, Reaching Forward. It is actually quite brilliant in a new-wave punky pop sort of way.

Those Dancing Days - Reaching Forward

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Tinie Tempah - Wonderman video

Presumably this is the final single from Tinie Tempah's hugely successful Disc-Overy album. It's the one where Tinie ruminates on how brilliant'n'popular he has become over the last 12 months.

It's fairly standard rap braggadocio - but the line "I traded friends for fans," in the second verse always makes me cringe. Tinie claims the lyric has been misinterpreted - "It doesn't mean that I've stopped hanging around with my friends. It means that my friends would now listen to my album the way they'd listen to Jay-Z and Kanye," he said last year. I genuinely hope that's the truth and not a shame faced post-rationalisation. The last thing any of us needs is another Kanye West.

Anyway, the video is all about Tinie being turned into the Six Million Dollar Man. It features Ellie Goulding as a sexy scientist lady, and a scene of extreme fisting.

Makes your eyes water, doesn't it?

Tinie Tempah ft Ellie Goulding - Wonderman

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bruno Mars plays his songs: A review

Ladies and gentlemen, here is Bruno Mars, writer of hits, singer of songs, dapper of attire, owner of a quiff. He was born Peter Gene Hernandez, and got his first taste of the limelight at the age of two, when he toured Japan with his father's doo-wop band.

The experience shows.

Launching his album in London's Cafe De Paris (a week after the album went to number one, natch) young Bruno does the soft-shoe shuffle with all the panache of a junior James Brown. His band, The Smeezingtons, pop and sizzle like a tightly regimented bowl of Rice Crispies. And - parents be warned - Bruno's soaring soul voice and baby-faced good looks are enough to spontaneously initiate puberty in teenage girls.

If anything lets him down, then, it's the material. Bruno's reggae-tinged soul can lack the grit of his musical heroes, Michael Jackson and Bob Marley... but when he finds a spark - on space funk jam The Other Side, for example - he generates enough smoke to trigger your musical fire alarm. By the time he wraps up the set with lighters-aloft soul ballad Just The Way You Are, we're in danger of being burnt alive. Metaphorically, you understand.

The gig is fleshed out with a handful of covers - Del Shannon's Runaway ("I wah-wah-wah-wah wonder") and a grinding mash-up of Smells Like Teen Spirit and Billie Jean. They give an alluring glimpse of what this 25-year-old can do with the right material. If he stops giving gems like F**k You and Nothin' On You to other artists, Mr Mars is destined for the stratosphere.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Don't be afraid of Parade

Are you clamouring for an all-new girl band this year? No? Well, tough, because the record industry has decided that you are.

We've already heard from The Ultra Girls (endorsed by Kylie) and SoundGirl (Mis-Teeq 2.0). The US is giving us Bellevoxx (Lily Allen covered by the cast of Gossip Girl) and former cheerleaders Beach Girl5, who incorporate cheers into their music to genuinely terrifying effect.

Waiting in the traps are Parade, a quintet aimed squarely at The Saturdays' core audience. It's hard to get excited about a band as reductive and formulaic as this: Their sound rips off All Saints, their video rips off Wannabe.

I can't imagine anyone went into the studio with the mission statement: "Take the music of any moderately successful girl band of the last two decades, add nothing, shoot video, release, reap untold rewards." But that is apparently what has happened.

To be fair, Parade's song - Louder - isn't all bad. The chorus has a certain hands-in-the-air joie de vivre, and the frantic cowbell breakdown in the middle 8 is a welcome surprise.

What sinks the whole enterprise is the unintended irony of the second verse.

The song is about asking a DJ to turn the music up, because music always sounds better when it makes your diaphragm spasm involuntarily. Then, amidst the derivative 1990s R&B-lite production, Emily Biggs (who you might recognise from 2007 X Factor finalists Hope) sings, "Just imagine us now, with a little more power, we'll be thundering". And that is exactly what's wrong. If only someone had kicked this song right in the knackers, it could have been amazing.

Parade - Louder

Parade are currently on tour with Alexandra Burke (make of that what you will). Their official website hides in this corner of the internet.

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Noah and the Whale and Peter Frampton

Last week, I got to spend an hour in the company of Noah And The Whale at their rehearsal studios in East London. Charlie Fink, the band's charming frontman, gave me a chatty tour of the facility (a converted synagogue), which I taped and put on the radio. Here it is.

Noah & The Whale - Studio tour by mrdiscopop

The band's new CD, Last Night On Earth, is out on 7th March and it's a right little corker. Considerably more breezy than their last effort - gut-wrenching break-up essay The First Days Of Spring - it hitches a lift with Springsteen, Tom Petty and Lou Reed across the musical highways of the USA. Charlie also noted that the album, his third, clocks in at exactly 33⅓ minutes. Now That's What I Call Unnecessary Attention To Detail.

First single, L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N., is both ear worm and tongue twister. It's accompanied by the following eye candy.

Noah And The Whale - L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lady Gaga premieres new song

This isn't exactly a new theory, but Lady Gaga is a master of publicity, isn't she?

Tonight, she released a teaser video for her new album, Born This Way. It's an obscure club mix of a new song, the soundtrack to a fashion show at The House of Mugler - which has recently been handed over to Nicola Formichetti, Gaga's personal stylist.

The track - bass-heavy, spoken word - bears little or no resemblance to the original song. There's a hint of melody at 2'15", as Gaga sings "I'll take you out tonight, say whatever you like", but that's all, save for a few scuzzy synth stabs and the occasional snatch of backing vocal.

It's a peek behind the veil; a stripper's tease; the promise of forbidden fruit. What you hear is just enough to hint that the song will be a masterpiece (and, according to her totally reliable and unbiased PR, we're not going to be disappointed).

I hope the official version retains the line: "I don't speak German, but I can if you like", followed (naturally) by an entire verse in German. Gaga Ist Ein Berliner.

See what I mean about the master of publicity thing? Amazing.

PS: The remix is officially titled Scheiße - German slang for "shit". It can be streamed or downloaded from

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Embedtime stories

Apropos of nothing - four songs that have given me goosebumps in the last 24 hours.

MNDR - Cut Me Out

A portion of peculiar pop from New York's MNDR (her off of Mark Ronson's Bang Bang Bang). It is available for download from something called Green Label Sound, which is probably very fashionable if you're the sort of person who thinks record labels are fashionable, ie a moron.

A Tribe Called Quest - Check The Rime

They didn't just do Can I Kick It, you know.

She & Him - Don't Look Back

Zooey Deschanel is delightful as ever in this retro throwback acoustipop concoction. But is it just me, or do her eyes look all raw like she's been crying? Zooey - you are always welcome at Discopop Towers if you need a comforting hug that definitely won't get weird and uncomfortable.

Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris - Love Hurts

Without wanting to sound like the sort of person who writes for Mojo magazine, this is possibly the best duet ever committed to tape. Drenched in regret, this is gut-wrenchingly, achingly beautiful. If you only know Cher's version, this is going to make you re-evaluate everything.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Magnetic Man ft John Legend - so damn good

Ordinarily, I wouldn't heap praise on a video that does the whole council estate Broken Britain "thing". But when the music is this satisfying - and soulful and menacing and trippy and lush - I'm prepared to overlook anything. Even the plate of cockroaches at 2m 42s.

Magnetic Man are really very good at this, aren't they?

Magnetic Man - Getting Nowhere

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Joy Of Joy Formidable

One of the great things about my job is that every so often, I'm assigned to interview a band I've never heard of and in the process discover music that will stay with me forever.

This morning, all I knew about Welsh trio The Joy Formidable was that they had a catchy song on the 6 Music playlist. Now, I've listened to about 50% of their entire recorded output and become a proper, dyed-in-the-wool fanboy idiot. (I also learnt they were from Wales, and that there are three of them. That's journalism for you).

The Joy Formidable is a perfect description of band's sound - a life-affirming blast of guitar noise and thumping drums. Rejected band titles included: The Gay Abandon, The Happy Effort and An Agreeable Punch In The Face.

Here's one of their early singles, Cradle.

The Joy Formidable - Cradle

I've just got back from the interview and can impart three new facts:

1) They are "big in Japan".
2) Drummer Matt Thomas is a blur of limbs. A future Dave Grohl.
3) Singer Ritzy Bryan is aware of the restrictions against swearing on breakfast show interviews. "People don't want cunt with their cornflakes".

Here is their current single, Austere, performed in some sort of BBC capacity last year.

The Joy Formidable's album The Big Roar is out next week. My interview with them will almost definitely air before that.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Musical statues on ITV's Daybreak

I'm not a massive fan of Aggro Santos or Like U Like, his collaboration with luscious-lipped Girl Aloud Kimberley Walsh. But you have to admire the commitment of his backing dancers.

During the implausibly-titled segment Something Cool Before The Kids Go To School on ITV's Daybreak show, a quartet of dancers were forced to hold their positions for a full two minutes while Christine Bleakley asked her searing and insightful questions ("it's very early, isn't it?") The troupe remained statuesque throughout this ordeal, despite what must have been the massive temptation to die horribly of boredom.

And then, just when they were ready to break out some awesome moves, Christine Bleakley smirked into the camera, "don't go anywhere, we'll see you after the break".

What a bitch.

Aggro Santos ft Kimberley Walsh - Like U Like

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Dancercise with Deerhoof

When you watch the new video from kooky San Francisco band Deerhoof, why not dance along to singer Satomi Matsuzaki's dance routine? It's not exactly Steps level choreography, but it is a step above the "walk in front of each other, then walk back again" routines favoured by All Saints (and no, I do not have any more current reference points).

The song, Super Duper Rescue Heads!, has a pleasingly shambolic groove that recalls pinky plonky indie bands like Tilly And The Wall and Los Campesinos! Generously decorated with Sonic The Hedgehog sound effects and super-charged guitar chords, it's the lead track from the band's first album, Deerhoof vs Evil, which is out next week.

Deerhoof - Super Duper Rescue Heads!

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Free download from the Holy Ghost

Who says the devil gets all the best tunes? New York disco punk duo Holy Ghost! have been floating around for the last couple of years doing remixes for the likes of Phoenix, MGMT and Cut Copy. Last summer, they put out an excellent EP which featured the following nugget of new-wave magnificence.

Holy Ghost! - Static On The Wire

If you think Static On The Wire sounds like a more melodic LCD Soundsystem, it's no coincidence. LCD's main man James Murphy produced it, and he's releasing Holy Ghost's debut album on his DFA label. Details are scant at the moment, but we do know the CD's got vocals from former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald and the title track sounds like this:

Holy Ghost - Do It Again by DFA Records

Do It Again (the album) isn't out til April, but you can download Do It Again (the song) in exchange for an email address on the band's official website. Phantasmic.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Animals dancing in the Safari Disco Club

You shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, but you can generally judge a pop star by their outfit. Rockers who avoid the official black denim uniform are not to be trusted, nor are pop stars who "keep it real" by refusing to wear eyeliner and tin foil boob tubes.

As you can see from the pictres above, French electro-pop maestros Yelle have passed the book-cover/pop-star test with flying colours. Nothing says "experimental gallic dance music" better than ridiculous, vision-obscuring headgear. Just ask Daft Punk.

The band's new single, Safari Disco Club, is also the title track of their new album, Safari Disco Club. According to RCRDLBL, the lyrics compare "men parts to potatoes". But of course.

Safari Disco Club by YELLE

Safari Disco Club comes out on 21st March in the UK, but you can get the single for a nominal fee of ZERO PENCE at the band's official website. How will they eat?

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Download this: Kid Sister mixtape

Cheeky Chicagoan rap mistress Kid Sister crept onto the end of my Top 10 albums of 2010 last week, pushing out the likes of Kanye West and (somewhat disappointingly) Kelis.

If you haven't come across this feisty femcee yet, imagine Salt-N-Pepa's bouncy, exuberant flow over Detroit Electro-House backing tracks and you'll be some of the way there. It's big, cartoonish party music for the raising of arms, the grinding of hips, the dislocation of joints, the agony of physiotherapy and the limping like an old man.

As a thank-you gesture for that Best Album accolade*, Kid Sister has released Kiss, Kiss, Kiss a mixtape of new songs, old songs and fresh remixes which you can download for free from this website. The highlight is a souped up cover of Debbie Deb's Lookout Weekend, a classic freestyle dance jam from 1984. I've posted the original and the Kid Sister version below. Enjoy!

Debbie Deb - Lookout Weekend

Kid Sister feat Nina Sky - Lookout Weekend

* I am 100% certain she knows about it

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Superlative "indie pop"

Today's featured tracks, from Lykke Li and Foster The People keep getting described as "indie pop" or "alternative pop". This seems to be hipster code for "songs with big choruses that it's ok to like without being laughed out of the common room". Previous exponents of the genre include MGMT and Peter, Bjorn and John.

I hate this sort of pseudo-scientific categorisation of music into cool and uncool. It's the sort of approach that explains why rock music has just suffered its worst year on the top 40 since 1960. The Beatles, The Kinks, The Smiths, Oasis, Blur - none of them were afraid of a gallumphing great hook. Even venerable indie band template The Velvet Underground had their sights set on the charts (it's just that their aim was a bit wonky).

Looking cool is no subsitute for a great tune. The Kings Of Leon admitted as much recently, when Caleb said the band had nearly erased Use Somebody after realising the chord progression was the same as Joe Cocker's Up Where We Belong. Eventually, they decided the song was too good to lose and - hey presto! - world domination.

In their defence, the current crop of rock bands are probably a direct reaction to the cheeky chappy indie landfill "scene" of 2005-8. No-one wants to be the next Scouting For Girls (and I don't know many people who'd volunteer to be the first). But with new records on the horizon from Franz Ferdinand and the Arctic Monkeys, I'm sure rock will sort itself out by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, we have two new singles to discuss, regardless of their classification.

Swedish popstrudel Lykke Li previews her second album, Wounded Rhymes, with the excellent I Follow Rivers. Already available on iTunes in some countries, it ramps up the percussion of the lascivious Get Some, released as a free download last year. It also adds MASSIVE HANDCLAPS. Have I mentioned before that every song in the history of song would benefit from massive handclaps? Even Candle In The Wind.

Lykke Li - I Follow Rivers

Next we have Foster The People, a quartet from LA who impressed us last year with their catchy summer groove Pumped Up Kicks. This new single, Helena Beat, has a similarly carefree chorus, aligned to a sinister lyric about drinking poison. You may be surprised to learn that the vocals are sung by a man. Do they put oestrogen in California's water supply, or what?

Helena Beat // Foster The People

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Britney's new single: Instant thoughts

0:01 **Presses play**

0:07 Thrilling wobbly bassline moment.

0:08 Britney's vocals start. Surprising absence of autotune.

0:27 "Come here a little closer, I want to whisper in your ear."

0:30 The next line is sung at normal volume. Britney has just perforated some poor bastard's eardrum.

0:47 "If I said I want your body now, would you hold it against me?"

1:06 Oh, was that the chorus?

1:24 Britney sings "hazy", pronounced "hai-zay".

1:53 "If I said I want your body now, would you hold it against me?"

2:11 Spoken word section.

2:17 Unexpected dubstep breakdown. This is where the video will get really good.

2:40 "Robin like a hood, and show me how you work it out". What does this mean, exactly?

2:47 Someone call Faithless, Britney has stolen that one setting off their keyboard.


3:10 "If I said I want your body now, would you hold it against me?"

3:26 "If I said I want your body now, would you hold it against me?"

3:37 "If I said I want your body now, would you hold it against me?"

3:47 **Presses repeat**

Basically, it's very good. Very, very good. The-album-will-never-live-up-to-this good. Almost too good.

Below is a YouTube clip of the song, which leaked earlier today. It was working at 14:50 this afternoon, but will probably have vanished by the time you look at this page. Damn you, lawyers.

Britney Spears - Hold It Against Me

[Update: @idreamofbeanie contacted me on Twitter to suggest the line at 2:40 is "Pop it like a hood, and show me how you work it out", which might make more sense. Or less. It's hard to tell.]

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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Clare Maguire's Last Dance video: Quite good

I'm still not entirely convinced by Clare Maguire. That honking foghorn voice takes a bit of getting used to... But this song could be the one that tips me over the edge.

Called Last Dance, it's a tribute to Michael Jackson - Clare wrote and recorded it the day after he died in June 2009. The video does not feature the moonwalk, the zombie shuffle, the itchy crotch, or any of Jacko's other trademark moves, but it is still rather epic in its own way.

And apparently leopard-skin is back in. Who knew?

Clare Maguire - Last Dance

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Jessie J: Dressed for success

Here are some pictures of Jessie J, who is officially the SOUND OF 2011, because everybody said so.

Singing a song in front of lights spelling out your name: Classic pop star behaviour.

Dressing up as the Chrysler building: Amazing!

Wearing a hat: Due to the inclement weather conditions.

Doing a poo in front of a loudspeaker: Unhygenic.

Coming to eat your brains: Like a zombie, yo.

Doing that thing with her eyes: Probably another illuminati puppet.

Naked except for a double semi-quaver: Because she is baring her soul in her music.

Sorry: This appears to be Cher Lloyd.

So, well done to the Jessie J (or Jessica Cornish, as her mum calls her). She is displaying all the signature traits of a deranged pop star / psycho serial killer. I wish her nothing but the best for 2011.

Meanwhile, here are some things I did for the radio about Jessie, and the rest of the Sound Of 2011 "crew". They are above average at best.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Top 10 albums of 2010

A little belated, but here they are. Enjoy!

1) Lissie - Catching A Tiger

In a year of grandiose 'masterpieces', this unassuming little record quietly became my go-to album. Illinois hippy-chick Lissie Maurus inhabits her material completely. Her ad-libs are so perfectly delivered that they become inseparable from the body of the songs. And what great songs: Torn from the Californian country-rock handbook, drawing on the best of The Byrds and Fleetwood Mac, and moulded for the 21st Century by Kings Of Leon producer Jacquire King. Stand-out tracks When I'm Alone and In Sleep could never claim to be original, but they were drenched in melody and so alive they had a pulse. A stunning debut.

2) Robyn - Body Talk

Six months, three albums, one Grammy nomination, dozens of five star reviews and only one bad song. It was the project that had everything except an audience. Still, those who sought out Robyn Carlsson's Swedish pop odyssey fell utterly in love with it. And who could blame them?

3) Scissor Sisters - Night Work

A glance through the tracklisting tells you what to expect from Scissor Sisters' third album: Sex And Violence, Skin Tight, Harder You Get. Back on filthy form after the vaudeville tripe of Ta-Dah!, Night Work is an album of sleek, hard, sexy disco. A celebration of the freaks who come out to play after dark, it allowed Jake Shears the chance to roleplay dozens of seedy characters, the timbre and cadence of his voice changing on every track like a method actor. Perfectly sequenced and eminently danceworthy, it also contained - on Whole New Way - the year's least subtle metaphor for anal sex. So that was nice.

4) Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

Like Scissor Sisters, Arcade Fire escaped the drab surroundings of their upbringing through music. But while the New Yorkers ran off to an "opiate utopia", the Canucks prodded and poked at their past, trying to make sense of it all. The Suburbs is about the geography of suburbia, and the impermanence of modern life. "All of the houses they built in the Seventies finally fall... It meant nothing at all," pines Win Butler on the title track.

The Suburbs is also the record where Arcade Fire discovered the spaces between the notes, the claustrophobic bombast of their first two records giving way to something more expansive and thoughtful. Having all that space to think gave the lyrics greater impact, too.

The top of most critics' end-of-year lists, it would have done the same here if it was just 10 minutes shorter.

5) Marina And The Diamonds - The Family Jewels

Its a tricky thing to be a pop singer with artistic aspirations. Too much of the throaty yelping and people steer clear of you like the shouty racist lady at the back of the bus. Too little, and people dismiss you as a disposable pop confection. Marina never quite got the balance right, veering wildly between bonkers balladry (I Am Not A Robot) and balls-out chartbusters (Oh No!). It didn't help that her lyrics often read like they'd been lifted straight out of "Opinions For Teenage Girls - For Dummies". Regardless, those who persevered - and thank goodness there were thousands of us - were rewarded with an album rich in melodic invention, musical dexterity and surprising vulnerability. The Family Jewels, indeed.

6) Vampire Weekend - Contra

Less direct than their debut, Vampire Weekend's sophomore album nonetheless had more heart. At least, I think it did. It's hard to be sure what Ezra Koenig is on about half the time ("fake Philly cheesecake but you use real toothpaste" - eh?). Still, the melodies, the trickling guitar riffs and - above all - the frenetic, polyrhythmic drumming are like nothing else. When they inevitably grow up and turn into Sting, let's remember them like this.

7) Sarah Blasko - As Day Follows Night

My heart, already a bit gooey from listening to Australian singer Sarah Blasko's third album, completely melted when I met her in May. Charming but fragile, awkward but funny - she's everything you'd expect from listening to this most intimate of heartbreak records. Captured in a secluded studio in the heart of the Swedish winter, it's an all-too-real exploration of the end of a love affair. What makes it poignant is that the break-up came in Blasko's mid-30s, raising the spectre of spinsterhood. What stops it being utterly depressing is the nimble arrangements, the delicate beauty of her voice and, ultimately, an all-pervasive sense of hope.

8) Tinie Tempah - Disc-Overy

Tinie Tempah delivered an entire Top 10 of best lyrics this year, from "I got so many clothes I keeps 'em in my aunt's house", through to "would you risk it for a chocolate biscuit?" Musically, he was no slacker, either. His morphing breakbeats lifted grime out of the loop-it-and-leave-it quagmire, as frequently as his lyrics showed up the dumb avarice of his contemporaries (Taio Cruz marked a new low for the genre this year when he sang: "I'm wearing all my favourite brands, brands, brands, brands, brands"). Stuffed full of ideas, Tinie's album equalled, but sadly never bettered, the promise of it's singles. Oh, and it earned an extra demerit for that AWFUL title.

9) John Legend & The Roots - Wake Up!

Inspired by Barack Obama's "yes, we can" campaign, and revisiting the classic ghetto protest songs of the 1970s, this was the best band of their generation, allied to the smoothest singer of his, making a rallying call to socially-concious America. Mmm-hmm. Whatever. Simply the best covers album of the year.

10) Kid Sister - Ultraviolet

Putting the fun back in funky and the rap back in... er, "not crap", Chicago's Kid Sister delivered a spritely party album for her long-gestating debut. It didn't set the world on fire, but it did heat up my living room by a couple of degrees. Inspired by electro, handbag house, rave and "boxes of doughnuts", it left me with a big, daft grin all over my face every time I heard it. OK, it probably doesn't deserve to be considered a classic, but it was either this or Kanye banging on about intense personal issues and and his penis. I rest my case.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Must watch: The Muppets cover Kanye's Monster

This might not remain on YouTube for too long, so catch it while it's fresh... A fan video remixing Kanye West, Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj's awesome, profane album cut Monster, with added input from the Jim Henson workshop. Brilliant editing. Required viewing.

Kanye West - Monster (Muppet Mix)

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tinie gets whipped

Thought you'd finally escaped Willow Smith's Whip My Hair? Think again. Here's a crafty little remix with a breezy opening monologue by Tinie Tempah.

OK, he's a little late to the party, but Tinie's had a busy year, so we can forgive him. As long as he helps puts the paper plates in a bin bag and sticks around for breakfast.

It's just a short verse to kick off the song but the quality threshold is predictably high, with Tinie's tongue planted firmly in cheek, as usual: "This beat was made by a young 'un, so I'm trying to watch my tongue, in case I go and say somethin'."

Nice work.

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Avril Lavigne irony overload

At the beginning of this video, Fergie out of the Black Eyed Peas Disaster Zone Pop Destruction Club says the following words: "She grows and changes with every album she releases. Now she's ready to take another bold step. With the world premiere of her new single, What The Hell, here's Avril Lavigne."

Avril Lavigne then appears on stage and performs a song that sounds exactly like her previous hits Sk8r Boi and Girlfriend, only with different words. Haha, the scriptwriter has made Fergie unintentionally sarcastic. "LOL".

Avril Lavigne - What The Hell

Still, if stroppy teenage angst-pop sung by a 26-year-old divorcee is your bag, then this is a Radley. It's a Max Martin production, which means it'll stick in your head like an axe, whether you like it or not. According to Avril's official website, you can download it for FREE by submitting to some sort of Facebook-related dignity theft. Thanks, but no thanks.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Top 10 singles of 2010

Happy New Year!! As the rest of the world looks forwards to 12 months of peace, prosperity and guilt-free, random sex (subs - please check), I thought I'd cast my eye back over the music of 2010.

As usual, the Discopop Directory top 10 is compiled from obsessively compiled iTunes play counts, weighted for release date using MATHS, so that I can't cheat and suddenly pretend to have been listening to The Foals all year long. Because I wasn't.

1) Robyn - Hang With Me

Hang With Me doesn't throw out pop's rule book or mess with your expectations, it is just a simple, brilliant piece of writing. Initially, it sounds a little sparse - unfinished, even - but that just gives Robyn's wounded vocals the space to breathe and flourish. It's a clever tease that keeps you coming back for more - much like the man who's the subject of the song. He's getting the old "let's just be friends" speech from Robyn, until she coyly lets slip "I know what's on your mind, and there'll be time for that, too." I believe this is called "treat 'em mean and keep 'em keen".

2) Cee-Lo - F**k You

All the cussing and blinding may have grabbed your attention, but it was the melody that made you stick around. A frisky facsimilie of the Motown sound, with a voice as pure and expressive as Marvin Gaye. Listen to the way Cee-Lo cracks in the middle 8, as if he's about to burst into big baby tears. Now that's how you sell a song.

3) Lissie - When I'm Alone

Lissie is on the opposite side of the relationship tracks to Robyn, being strung along by a fickle lover who never quite keeps his promises. In the verses, she's an innocent child, leaping to answer the phone "like a kid who just got out of school" and "throwing a tantrum" when Darcy (I imagine all pop songs to be about characters from Pride and Prejudice) is not on the other end of the line. Once she's got him in her grasp, though, Lissie grows right up. The choruses are so hot and steamy you could cook vegetables with them. An overlooked classic.

4) Kelis - A Capella

The metaphor may have been totally confused (you can't sing a symphony) but the song was a scorcher. Kelis was eulogising about her baby boy, Knight, and how his arrival changed her outlook on life. Neatly, the bassline mirrored the lyrics, sticking to one pounding note throughout the verses, then modulating in the chorus as the harmonies blossomed around it. This nimble compositional dexterity was not as important, however, as the fact you could dance to the Moroder-esque groove until your shoes caught fire. The track was subsequently banned in the clog-wearing regions of Holland.

5) Mark Ronson - Bang Bang Bang

A song of two distinct parts. On the one hand, we have Q-Tip rapping about how he is successful and therefore better than you. On the other, you have MNDR playing cowboys and indians: "Bang, bang you're dead! Here's your silhouette!" I think it is somehow supposed to be about toppling capitalism.

6) Lady Gaga feat Beyoncé - Telephone

It's interesting - I think Lady Gaga is a pop genius but both this year and last, she hasn't figured as highly in my Top 10 lists as I'd have expected. Maybe that's because she's so all-pervasive I don't actually need to listen to her music in my own time. Anyway, this song is about telephones and how annoying they are when you're trying to dance. The video, which you may have seen, was about killing people with maple syrup. Artists, eh?

7) Marina and the Diamonds - Shampain

A lot of people found Marina annoying, didn't they? I can see why: Morbid self-obsession, rampant egomania, hiccuping instead of singing - not exactly traits to endear you to the mainstream. But stuff the mainstream, Marina is brilliant and this song is the proof. Equal parts Abba and Girls Aloud, it's a hymn to drinking away the pain. And the shift to minor key in the last chorus gets me every time.

8) Janelle Monae - Tightrope

The video for Tightrope is set in a world where dancing has been outlawed "for its tendency to lead to illegal magical practices" (??) Janelle is in an asylum for the criminally choreographed, where lawbreakers are forced to strut their sentences. It's the sort of place you'd expect to find Lionel Blair, but he is sadly absent. Nonetheless, Tightrope proves to be so infectious that the entire prison breaks into a rhumba riot. But why did they allow speakers into the prison in the first place? People will have to be held accountable.

9) Ciara - Ride

Utter filth from beginning to end. I love it.

10) Ellie Goulding - Starry Eyed

I've said several times that Ellie has a knack for capturing universal feelings in neat, succinct couplets. This song, about the euphoria of falling in love for the first time, is no exception: "Next thing, we're touching. You look at me, it's like you hit me with lightning." Who hasn't experienced that? It's beautifully evocative without overstating its case. A number one back in January, Starry Eyed probably wouldn't have made this list without the beatific Russ Chimes remix, which adds a chunky 1990s house piano riff and a huge, whooshing crescendo. Excellent work all round.

Honorable mentions: Tinie Tempah - Pass Out / Vampire Weekend - Cousins / Kanye West - Power / Biffy Clyro - Many Of Horror / Stornoway - Zorbing / Marina and the Diamonds - Hollywood / Arcade Fire - We Used To Wait / Magnetic Man - I Need Air / Robyn - Dancing On My Own / New Young Pony Club - Chaos / Bruno Mars - Just The Way You Are / Goldfrapp - Alive / Yeasayer - Ambling Alp / Katy B - Katy On A Mission / Big Boi - Shutterbugg / Josephine - A Freak A / Gorillaz - Doncamatic / Lykke Li - Get Some

So that's it for this year... I've put together a Spotify playlist of all the above songs at the end of this link. I'll try to do the albums - which promise to be a little less popomatic - before the end of the week.

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