Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New video: SBTRKT - Wildfire

As you may have heard, Janelle Monáe's record sales increased by an astonishing 4,500% after her Glastonbury performance at the weekend. Her album's already more than a year old... which goes to show that good music sometimes gets lost amongst the chippy commercialism of those David Guettas and Taio Cruzes.

So I have no compunction about blogging again about the really-rather-excellent SBTRKT, whose single Wildfire has been knocking about for weeks without so much as a raised eyebrow. It features Yukumi from Little Dragon on vocals and it's finally got a video. You will like this. A lot.

SBTRKT ft Little Dragon - Wildfire

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Exclusive: Van Go Lion vs Johnny Hates Jazz

EXHIBIT A: Johnny Hates Jazz
Besuited 80s popmeisters. Fans of Studio Line hair gel. Fond of synthesized brass stabs. Once wrote a bizarrely cheery song about falling in love with a prostitute.

After they split up in 1988, one of Johnny Hates Jazz went on to pen hits for Gina G. Singer Clark Datchler recorded a solo album about the environment. They continue to survive off the royalties to global hit single Shattered Dreams, which has been played more than 3.2 million times on US radio alone.

Not to be confused with Living In A Box.

EXHIBIT B: Van Go Lion
Portland-based pop peddlers Van Go Lion are Amy Paige (vocals) and Josh Loerzel (synths and looking lost in promo photos, like Dave Stewart used to do in the Eurythmics). They are named after a character from obscure US kids show Zoobilee Zoo, which has the most annoying title sequence of all time.

By pressing a unique combination of buttons on their Apple Mac, the duo create DIY retro pop music that, unlike all other DIY retro pop music, is not rubbish. Instead, we get pared down, euphoric europop that tips its hat to The Pet Shop Boys, Hall And Oates and Billy Ocean (amazing). Here's their current single Body Moves.

Van Go Lion: Body Moves by VanGoLion

EXHIBIT C: Van Go Lion cover Johnny Hates Jazz
To celebrate the launch of Body Moves (you can buy it on iTunes now), Van Go Lion have recorded a brilliant, housed-up cover version Shattered Dreams and given it exclusively to Discopop Directory. How bloody marvellous is that?

Better still, Johnny Hates Jazz have given the whole thing their seal of approval. Here is what they had to say:

“25 years since Shattered Dreams was originally a worldwide hit, and after nearly three and a half million airplays in the US alone, it's great that the song is reaching a new generation of music fans. We celebrate Van Go Lion's innovative new recording, and have no doubt that it will add to this continuing success.” - Johnny Hates Jazz

Did you spot the reference to how great and popular Johnny Hates Jazz are? It's very subtle so you might have missed it, but it's definitely there.

Van Go Lion: Shattered Dreams (Johnny Hates Jazz cover) by VanGoLion

Find out more about Van Go Lion on their official website and twitter page. Find out more about Johnny Hates Jazz on Facebook.

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Glastonbury: A top 10 from behind-the-scenes

Working at Glastonbury is hard going - 18-hour days, 20 bands to interview, 20 live inserts on 6 Music and Radio 2, covering the death of a politician, and producing eight or nine other radio segments across the weekend.

But let's face it: I'm a lucky pup. I get to see and do things that only a privileged few will ever experience. The lack of sleep is a small price to pay.

So... Here's my top 10 moments from the behind-the-scenes at the world's muddiest festival.

10) The Joy Formidable. Not only did they ROCK the John Peel stage, but they started a rumour that Beyoncé would have a "giant inflatable clitoris on stage as a symbol of female empowerment". We didn't broadcast much of that interview...

9) Jo Whiley getting her umbrella stuck in a door, but still looking inconceivably glamorous.

8) When the MC on the West Holts stage implored everyone to lower their flags, and everyone obeyed.

7) U2... I didn't get to see any of their set, but this stripped-down version of Stay was a highlight of the TV coverage. It's not one of their best-known songs, but it was a subtle and tender moment in a blustering "biggest band in the world" headline set.

The song's subtitle, Far Away, So Close, reflected the general feeling that U2 had fumbled their big moment - thanks in no small part to the weather.

U2 - Stay (Far Away, So Close)

6) Watching Jimmy Cliff at the side of the West Holts stage as he got ready to perform. The 63-year-old reggae star limbered up by spinning his arms like a human windmill, dressed in a chain-mail tracksuit with gold lamé shoes. And what an incredible set he delivered...

Jimmy Cliff - World Upside Down

5) When Plan B went AWOL 30 minutes before a live interview on Radio One. We had to scramble the emergency phone lines to find another guest, ringing anyone who might have their hands on a pop star. Kaiser Chief Ricky Wilson eventually came through (and was brilliant on air) but not before Steve Lamacq wandered past, laconically noting: "It's ironic that you need a Plan B for Plan B".

4) Sneaking out into the audience for 15 minutes of Elbow - just as they performed my favourite song, Mirrorball. Guy Garvey gave the most affable performance of the weekend, holding the crowd in the palm of his hand with some perfectly-judged bandinage between the songs. I got to be part of his "reverse mexican wave", a beautiful moment of communion between band and audience.

Elbow - Reverse Mexican Wave / Neat Little Rows

3) Standing next to Beyoncé as she waited to speak to BBC TV. She was totally buzzing from her spectacular set on the Pyramid Stage, glowing like a gorgeous R&B firefly.

We were stood as close as the first "W" and the final "E" of this sentence and, if she hadn't been ushered onto the set, I might have gone all Alexandra Burke and started weeping like an idiot. The interview was incredibly sweet, though. As Olly Richards said on Twitter afterwards: "Beyonce seems lovely. I bet she & Jay-Z just sit at home being brilliant and not feeling a need to make it a big thing."

Beyoncé chats to the BBC after her Glastonbury performance

2) Everything about Janelle Monae. The pin-sharp choreography, the stunning voice, the monochrome stage set (everything was black and white, right down to the string section's instruments)... even the bit where she brought out an easel and started painting in an unexpected tribute to Rolf Harris. Possibly the most gifted and individual performer of the weekend.

Janelle Monáe - Tightrope

1) Interviewing Robert "Kool" Bell of Kool & The Gang. Our chat ended like this...

Me: "You're on stage at the same time as Beyoncé. Do you feel any competition? Who's going to be more funky?"

Kool: "It's interesting that they've put us on at the same time, but I think we have enough people out here. And we gonna get down".

Me: "How do you get down?"

Kool: "We get down... on it."

There were other moments, too... Getting to stand in the wings as Cee-Lo played his set. Having to ask The Vaccines to write their names on a piece of paper, because I kept getting them wrong on air. And the backstage catering, which was of an unfairly high standard compared to the falafel vans on the main site (a special shout-out to whoever made the sticky toffee pudding).

I have an amazing job.

If you listened to our coverage on 6 Music, thank you! And if you missed any of it, here's a round-up of everyone I saw and spoke to at the John Peel stage - which was my main home for the weekend.

Glastonbury 2011 - From the John Peel Stage by mrdiscopop

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Next stop: Farmville

There will be a short break in service while I report at, then recover from, a large music festival in the middle of England. You might hear me if you tune in to 6 Music... but not during Adam & Joe (*pouty face*)

Sadly, work commitments mean I won't get to see Beyoncé's headline set on Sunday night. I think we can all agree she's going to own Glastonbury, though. And here's why... Even when she dashes off an obligatory Destiny's Child number, she's 20 times the performer you or I or "Chris Martin" will ever be.

Beyoncé - Say My Name (live)


If you're festival-bound yourself, I'm mainly reporting from the John Peel tent (highlights: DJ Shadow, The Joy Formidable, Noah And The Whale, Example, Robyn, Foster The People). If you see someone holding a 6 Music microphone with the manic expression of a feral lemur, come over and say "hi".

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Could we just get on with it and reform Girls Aloud, please?

1) Nicola Roberts's very good solo effort has basically "stiffed" and no amount of gushing coverage in Sunday broadsheet style supplements is going to get it into the top 10, ok?

2) Cheryl Cole's last album was the sound of a yawn being stifled.

3) Kimberley Walsh can only stand around looking beautiful for so long.

4) We are not sure what Sarah Harding does any more. (Dating In The Dark does not count as "doing something" when you used to be in the UK's best pop group of the 21st century.)

5) Nadine Coyle has been reduced to recording songs in one of those photo karaoke booths in a US shopping mall.

Nadine Coyle - Sweetest High

Can we get Brian Higgins on the phone now, before Chipmunk releases another single and destroys British pop for once and for all?

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Britney's new video: Pros and cons

Britney Spears has a chequered history when it comes to videos. For every technicolor dance spectacular (Toxic), there's a drab, soul-less dirge (Gimme More). The worst ones always seem to feature Britney "cutting loose" and "being herself" in "the club" - cf the forced jollity of Do Somethin'.

Her latest single is I Wanna Go and it falls directly between these two stools, causing some nasty bruising to the cocyx. Here's a breakdown:

Totally unnecessary swearing Britney "acting"
Thriller reference Terminator reference
The bit with the milk The bit with the paparazzi
Britney pretending to whistle Tedious "sexy" lyrics
Nice bikini It was all a dream

Basically, it's 50% brilliant and 50% "eh?". Watch below...

Britney Spears - I Wanna Go

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hit me with your rhythm stick

That Laura Marling track too subdued for you? Then here's the new Chase & Status single, Hitz, with Tinie Tempah incorporating references to Mary Poppins, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and, er... Mary Had A Little Lamb.

This is quite literally a racket.

Chase & Status ft Tinie Tempah - Hitz

Brilliant / dubious lyric alert: "She called me chauvinistic, but she can't even spell it".

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Surprise Laura Marling announcement

Ping! An email has just arrived to announce the release of Laura Marling's third album A Creature I Don't Know. It's not out 'til September, but presumably her "people" wanted you to know in advance that she'll be playing some songs you've never heard before on the Pyramid Stage this weekend. Always a winning tactic, that.

Anyway, I openly embrace any new Laura Marling material - and the preview track they've send out is suitably beautiful. Taking the same guilessly natural approach as her Jack White-produced EP last year (listen to Blues Run the Game here), it finds Laura singing at the bottom end of her register over a scratchy acoustic guitar.

Should sound great when the sun rises over Glastonbury on Sunday. If you can hear her voice over the engine of the cider van.

Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Welcome to the remixatron

Friday night is party night. Actually, Friday night is collapsing on the sofa with a bottle of wine night. But I always like to end the working week with a few remixes, which is some sort of hangover from listening to Radio One's Big Beat with Jeff Young in the late 80s.

Here's what I'm putting on tonight's playlist.

1) Beastie Boys - Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win (Major Lazer Remix)
With Switch and Diplo at the controls, this Beastie Boys album track gets a dancehall makeover that propels Santigold's contribution to the forefront. Which is exactly how it should be.

2) Kelly Rowland - Motivation (Remix)
Hands up who thought Kelly Rowland had given up on R&B? If she's not collaborating with David Guetta or Alex Gaudino on some abysmal Magaluf "anthem", she's practically invisible. So this track, which also features Busta Rhymes and Trey Songz, is a revelation. A slow, seductive soul jam - it's sexy in a way Rihanna could only ever hope to be.

3) Arcade Fire - We Used To Wait (acoustic version)
Technically not a remix, but who cares? It's brilliant.

Arcade Fire - We Used To Wait

4) Adele - Set Fire To The Rain (Thomas Gold Remix)
Remixing Adele is about as pointless as putting a coat on a dog. Nonetheless, this arms-aloft retwizzle is so cheesy it almost works. Hang around til 3'45" for the drop. Amazing!

Adele - Set Fire To The Rain (Thomas Gold Remix)

5) Alex Winston - Sister Wife (Ladyhawke Remix)
Ladyhawke has never done a remix before, so she must have been really impressed with Alex Winston to get involved. Or maybe she thought the song was broken and only a Ladyhawke remix could fix it. Or maybe she needed a bit of extra money to finish her second album. Either way, GET ON WITH IT LADYHAWKE.

6) Ronika - Wiyoo (Ronika 'own you' Remix)
I'd be lying if I said I hadn't listened to Ronika's Wiyoo EP every day this week. This remix isn't as good as the original, but it has bits of the original in it, and as such is brilliant on toast.

Hope you enjoy... Have a great weekend!

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Gaga Dancing*

"Lady Gaga is not a dancer." Not my words, but those of choreographer, Laurianne Gibson, speaking on BBC Three's 50 Greatest Dance Crazes a few nights ago.

"Like millions of young girls, she took dance classes," Laurianne continued. "You learn a few things very early - a pas de bourrée, a kickball change. So I put these classic dance steps in her choreography and I said, 'well, I know that I'll make you a dancer'".

So You Think You Can Dance judge Sisco Gomez was more direct: "She's not the best dancer, but she has a very specific way of moving, so her choreographer captures those really awkward moments and turns them into dance moves."

So maybe it wasn't the best idea to stitch the Edge Of Glory video together from six minutes of Gaga improvising her own dance steps. For the technically-minded, I've listed some of the moves she uses below:

:: Walking forwards a little bit
:: Walking backwards a little bit
:: Swinging around a lamp post
:: Dry humping a fire escape
:: Kissing the pavement
:: Lying down for a quick rest

But the absolute best moment comes at about 4'30", when Gaga spies a stone column and can't resist the urge to incorporate it into her routine. She's aiming for an exuberant, graceful launch into the air á la Gene Kelly in Singing In The Rain. Instead, we get this.

As a song, Edge Of Glory is the one that resurrected the promo campaign for Born This Way, and finally pushed Lady Gaga back on to Radio One's A-list. The inspiration was the death of Lady Gaga's grandfather in late 2010 - he's standing on the edge of glory as he passes from this life into the next.

Imagine having this as your introduction music as you arrived at the pearly gates. The other guys from the care home would be well jealous.

Lady Gaga - Edge Of Glory

* This was supposed to be a pun on Go-go dancing. It was not entirely successful. Apols.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

...And relax

This is turning out to be a crazy week. Who would have thought that co-ordinating news coverage of Glastonbury for three national radio networks would create any sort of pressure or stress? (FYI Daily Mail readers, we're taking just four journalists to cover the six biggest stages and 2,010 individual acts.)

Luckily, I have the Pierces album on my iPod to soothe my brain on the journey home. Its elegant, ethereal, elegaic and other words beginning with "e". Including essential.

Here's what you're missing (unless you own it, in which case why aren't you listening to it?)

The Pierces - We Are Stars (acoustic)

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A short geography lesson

Mrsdiscopop went blue with rage when Jennifer Lopez popped up on So You Think You Can Dance this Saturday past. "THIS SONG MAKES ME ...MNNRNGGGHHRRR," she seethed through gritted teeth, before exploding in a blur of spit and hair. It was quite a sight.

After soothing her with tea, biscuits and prescription drugs, I discovered the cause of this uncharacteristic diatribe: The lyric "Brazil, Morocco, London to Ibiza, Straight to LA, New York, Vegas to Africa".

"Doesn't she know," pleaded my wife, "the difference between a city, a state, a country and a continent?"

I didn't know it was possible to get so worked up about a 42-year-old American Idol judge's knowledge of geography. But apparently an accurate grasp of cartography is a key element in Mrsdiscopop's enjoyment of pop songs.

She's not going to be pleased, then, with the new Metronomy single, The Bay, which incorrectly lists Hong Kong (an administrative region of China) in a list of capital cities.

Oh dear.

Metronomy - The Bay

(Nice video, all the same)

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Katy Perry - Last Friday Night (extended version)

Katy Perry has been putting out teaser clips to her Last Friday Night (TGIF) video for several weeks now.

So, before the premiere, we already knew most of the surprises: Mrs Brand stars as her nerdy 13-year-old alter-ego Kathy Beth Terry. She ends up at a fluorescent 80s house party hosted by living, breathing internet meme Rebecca Black. And the guests include Corey Feldman, Artie from Glee and Kenny G.

Yes, that Kenny G.

The video leaked on Saturday, but the low-quality, out-of-sync rip ruined all the madcap mayhem of the Risky Business / John Hughes-inspired romp.

Katy has had the last laugh, however, because she was holding back a vastly superior, extended 8-minute cut of the video. And so we get more gaffa tape, more vomit, a momentary wardrobe malfunction - and more footage of Hanson.

Yes, that Hanson.

Katy Perry - Last Friday Night (TGIF) - Extended

Video: 9/10
Song: 5/10

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Fire, fire, sizzle. Feel the heat.

I went all giddy over Ronika's new single Forget Yourself earlier this week (the headline is a lyric from that song).

Since then, three things have confirmed my suspicion that Ronika is a rather brilliant pop star in the making.

1) Promotional picture taken after a sad but glamorous road traffic accident.

2) Amazing mixtape on her Soundcloud page.
Ronika - Do or Death Mixtape by ronika

3) Ronika said "hello" on Twitter, which shows she has very good manners. Good manners, I have come to discover, are a hallmark of all the most successful pop stars. Pop stars and doormen. So she's got a career to fall back on if the music doesn't take off.

I just had to share that with you all. No idea why.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Good song alert: Emeli Sandé - Heaven

I am always amazed that more artists don't recognize the value of a crescendo. You know what I mean: that moment when the strings swell, the vocals soar and your tummy does a little wobble that in other circumstances would be an indicator of the onset of typhoid.

Adele gets it. Gary Barlow gets it. Coldplay get it, and use it to distract you from their inability to write a memorable melody. Kanye West gets it, samples it, and beats you over the head with it. The Kaiser Chiefs used to get it, but Tesco stopped delivering to their postcode in 2007.

Someone else who gets it is Emeli Sandé. I was waxing lyrical about her demos just last week, and now she's gone and finished one of them. It's called Heaven, and if you've been waiting 20 years for a sequel to Massive Attack's Unfinished Sympathy, your patience has finally been rewarded.

This is very, very good indeed.

Emeli Sande - Heaven

Heaven is released on 14th August.

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Eminem? Oh, go on then

The whole Eminem comeback has largely passed us by here at Discopop Towers. All those shouting, self-hating murder fantasies seem like relics from the dark ages, like the crusades and treating mental illness with mercury. Didn't we all decide that rap music should be fun again?

Anyway, Marshall is still ploughing his peculiarly angry furrow, but every so often it's nice to be reminded what a clever sod he is. His guest slot on the new Bad Meets Evil single is a case in point. His tongue-twisting lyrics are a powder keg of witty wordplay, giving the plodding backing track a thrilling shot of adrenaline. It's just a shame he can't resist making a gratuitous anal sex gag in the first verse.

For God's sake, man. You're 38. Give it a rest.

Bad Meets Evil - Fast Lane ft Eminem

If you need an antidote - here's a new video from Brighton duo Rizzle Kicks. Sylvester and Jordan are both 18 and, according to this article, they "rap over indie, rock and pop, reggae and soul and mariachi samples".

That may sound like a cue to throw your computer out the window and hide under the duvet but, amazingly, it's not altogether horriffic. In fact, current single Down With The Trumpets is a great little summer anthem, with a cheeky brass sample lifted from Lily Allen's Smile.

Rizzle Kicks - Down With The Trumpets

Let's be honest, though, these guys won me over as soon as they mentioned Rachel Bilson. Here is a picture of Rachel Bilson in hotpants.


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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Cee-Lo and The B52's and a song about a cat

You've seen that headline. What more reason do you need to hit "play"?

Teddybears - Cho Cha feat. Cee-Lo Green & The B-52's

The track was masterminded by Swedish collective Teddybears, who started off as a grindcore act in 1991 and slowly mellowed into a sinister, ursine version of DeadMau5, parading around in bear helmets with flashing, angry eyes and razor sharp fangs.

Behind one of those masks, however, is Klas Åhlund - the pop genius who co-writes all of Robyn's best tracks (Hang With Me, Konichiwa Bitches, Indestructible) and has a credit on Britney's Piece Of Me.

The Cee-Lo track, Cho Cha*, isn't as good as any of those (and the B52's are woefully underused) but it's a nice entry into the Gnarls Barkley book of foreboding minor key pop.

There is more of this sort of thing on their official website.

* I am aware that this may be slang for an entirely different type of pussy cat to the one alluded to in the song words.

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Shakira goes beserk

If you have any lingering doubts about Shakira's popularity, how about this statistic: Her latest video, Rabiosa, went online yesterday afternoon and it's already racked up 1.6 million views on YouTube.

This may have something to do with the fact she spends half the video in the bath, and the other half pole-dancing.

It's not going to appease the people who felt the She-Wolf video was over-sexualised and exploitative - but at least there's some sort of lyrical justification for her behaviour. The song's title literally translates as "beserk" and Shakira spends the majority of the song encouraging her lover to "bite me in the mouth". What a horrible image.

Musically, Shakira's conjured up a flighty calypso, structured around an intricate, jittering brass chart. A great little party tune - but flimsier than Shakira's nightdress.

Shakira (ft Pitbull) - Rabiosa

Rabiosa is from Shakira's bilingual album Sale El Sol which, if I'm honest, I completely forgot about. It came out in October, apparently.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

New Florence & The Machine: Not Fade Away

Here's something a little unusual - Florence & The Machine covering Buddy Holly. It's for a tribute album - Rave On - which also features contributions from Cee-Lo, Paul McCartney, Patti Smith and (sharp intake of breath) Fiona Apple!

Florence's track, Not Fade Away, is a proper boneshaker, full of parping French Horns and psychotic percussion. Concord Records are throwing their full weight behind it, with a proper single release and video, but it's clearly just the product of an afternoon's fun in the recording studio.

Florence & The Machine - Not Fade Away

If that's whetted your apetite for new Florence material, you might not have long to wait. Producer Paul Epworth was on 6 Music yesterday, and said the new album is almost finished and "even heavier than the first".

"It's going to be stripped back," he revealed. "A little bit less indie and a bit more soulful."

"She's worked really hard to create a big body of work. We've whittled quite a long list of songs down to about 16. And now we're working on refining the material - turning coal into diamonds."

Epworth said the record will "be finished by the end of July". That probably means a late October / early November release, once mastering, marketing, artwork and press are taken care of.

You can hear the rest of that interview on the 6 Music site [link expires on 10th June].

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Da Doo Ron Ronika

I'm not going to beat around the bush here, this is one of the best new artists I've heard this year. Her name is Ronika and she is to John "Jellybean" Benitez what Ladyhawke is to Jane Weidlin (IE her music sounds like a lost Madonnna 12-inch from 1985 (IE It is amazing)).

So comb back your hair, pull on your fluorescent socks and say a prayer to Molly Ringwald - because here is Forget Youself, the standout track from her new EP, which is out next week.

(Don't be shy with that "play" button - this video has Metal Mickey in it. METAL MICKEY!!)

Ronika - Forget Yourself

Enjoy that? Here are some links you might also be interested in:
:: Ronika's blog looks like this.
:: She tweets on this account.
:: And another track from the EP, Wiyoo, is also on your internet.

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Kanye West goes for gory

On the same day that a government review has called for age-ratings on music videos, Kanye West has unveiled a six-minute gothic horror film which instantly demands an 18 certificate.

Monster is, for me, the standout track on Wests's latest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. A sparse, schizoid earworm with cameos from Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj and Rick Ross, it's one of the few tracks that doesn't suffer from the record's grandiose production excesses. Clips from the video surfaced back in December, so it's not entirely certain why it's taken so long for the finished product to arrive - although there were rumours that MTV wouldn't show it in its original form.

Featuring a grisly parade of ghouls, vampires, decapitations and deformed bodies, the new edit hardly seems suited for daytime TV, either. Here are a few of the most memorable moments... They're not recommended for the squeamish.

Notably, the video is preceded by a petulant disclaimer "THIS IS AN ART PIECE AND IT SHALL BE TAKEN AS SUCH" which anticipates the inevitable attacks from the conservative media. It also provides a neat echo of Michael Jackson's pre-roll statement in the Thriller video ("this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult") to which Monster owes a considerable stylistic debt.

The video isn't available for embedding - but click on this link to take you to Kanye West's official site for the premiere.

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Nicola Roberts: Beat Of My Drum video

A couple of days earlier than anticipated, Nicola Roberts has released the video for her debut single, Beat Of My Drum. As I've been mentioned before, this single is 100% A GOOD THING, like ice cream and zebras.

Does the video fulfil that promise? Yes and no...

As the track begins, Nicola steps gingerly (sorry) towards the microphone, looking like a nerve-wracked X Factor contestant. It's a neat illustration of the lyrics, which describe her awkward beginnings in Girls Aloud - "Baby in the corner, learning quick. Keep up, keep up, keep up."

What needs to happen next is a shot of Nicola emerging, transformed from her cocoon and commanding the stage like Lady Gaga taming tigers in a Russian circus. But the video plays it a little too cool. The dancing is fresh and fluid, but lacks that crucial element of ball-busting confidence. Maybe the heels were a mistake?

Things start to improve in the drum breakdown, which is handily signposted by the presence of some drums.

And this particular move is fierce...

Finally, it all kicks off in time for the coda. Nicola celebrates by dressing up as Cher Lloyd in chunky knitwear. Note the sophisticated side pony tail.

Overall, 6/10. The video will be gobbled up by Nicola's dyed-in-the-wool fans (and, believe you me, they've really come out of the woodwork on Twitter in the last fortnight) but I'm not convinced it'll convert the non-believers.

I'll keep my fingers crossed, though. As a champion of brave, innovative day-glo pop, I'd love this to be a whopping great hit when it hits iTunes on Sunday.

Nicola Roberts - Beat Of My Drum

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Some bonus bits from @NerinaPallot

I had a quick chat with Nerina Pallot last week when she popped into the 6 Music news bunker (tidy, isn't it?). The results went up on the BBC News Website today. We talk about babies, fans who make out to her songs, and who is tallest: Nerina or Kylie? You can read the interview here - but, as ever, there are a few little morsels that didn't make the main piece. So here's a few snippets of conversation from the cutting room floor...

I love the synthpop remix of the new single, Put Your Hands Up (Like It's 1987). How did that come about?

I’ll let you into a little secret. That is not the remix. That's the first version we ever did.

Actually, to be honest, the way I wrote the song was on the piano and it was very singer-songwriter. I played it to my husband, and he said, "there’s so much potential here but it’s a bit of a yawn" so we re-worked it together and it became this uber-pop moment. I have this obsession with mid-80s Stock Aitken and Waterman, so I wanted to let that song have its moment in that way.

This album ditches the uber-pop moments you had on your last record, The Graduate, though...

I wanted to make a concerted effort to bring back the rock element to my records. I hadn’t done that on The Graduate. For me, that record was an indulgence. I produced it on my own and I’m not the world’s greatest electric guitar player, so it really lacked that. Bernard [Butler - producer] was one of my first choices, because of that element. And also he had a vision, which was really old-fashioned. We rehearsed a band and cut most of the album live. I think that’s where that grit comes from – just a bunch of people in the studio playing together.

Put Your Hands Up has done really well on Radio 2, but do you find it difficult to get your songs played elsewhere?

We live in a time where things are meant to be niched – but that doesn’t bear reflection of people’s iTunes collections. I think people’s listening is more diverse than we think it is. One day, there’ll be a perfect radio station where they play Britney next to Nirvana.

Maybe it would be good to look at the American model of including airplay and general media exposure into the singles chart. Then we'd get a truer picture of what is a really popular track, what is a fake hit, and what is a manipulated hit. But no-one's going to listen to me on that!

Here's Nerina performing of Put Your Hands Up on ITV1 yesterday. The drummer is having a little too much fun, if you ask me.

Nerina Pallot - Put Your Hands Up (live)

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An embarrassment of new songs

We're long overdue a big old metapost of new music. So here, in no particular order, are some songs from the last seven days which you might be interested in hearing.

This has literally just gone up online (and on iTunes). It starts well - as though it might suddenly explode with a massive arms-akimbo DONK. Instead, it transmogrifies into a terrible Big Country poodle perm rawk dirge. Will sound good at festivals.

I literally just stumbled across this earlier today. According to their website, The Staves are "three sisters who blend their distinctive voices into beautiful, spell-binding harmonies". Basically, a British female Fleet Foxes. Lovely stuff.

Because nothing says "confidently bouncing back after a flop album" like premiering your song on a mobile phone advert. Oh, wait...

Is anyone eagerly anticipating a third album by Aussie twins The Veronicas? They certainly seem to think so, if this thrilling teaser video is anything to go by. Interesting to hear that their new single is produced by Nellee Hooper, though.

Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay, or Justice, as they are better known, released this track as an Adidas advert earlier in the year. The video, which has just been finished, is nothing short of spectacular.

A vaguely hypnotic chant, of the sort you might hear in a creepy Haight Ashbury hippy commune circa 1968. This is either a teriffic sing-along or a sinister attempt to brainwash you into giving all your clothes to a donkey and walking nude down the central reservation of the M6.

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Robyn returns!

It's six months since the last instalment of the Body Talk series, so you could be forgiven for thinking Robyn has taken a well-earned rest. Not so - she's been off in the US promoting the heck out of her uniquely miserable brand of europop, thanks in no small part to the patronage of Katy Perry, who hand-picked her as a support act and shoved her into this week's Entertainment Weekly.

As part of that push, she's released a video for Call Your Girlfriend, probably the most radio-friendly track on Body Talk Pt. 3. Cunningly, the clip features our Swedish pop heroine dancing on her own (ta-da!) in a deserted school disco. Anyone who's witnessed Robyn's particular brand of choreography on stage will know they're in for a treat before they even click on that play button.

Best bit: Looking like the Honey Monster at 2'37"

Robyn - Call Your Girlfriend

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Is pop eating itself?

Radio 4's Today programme ran a feature this morning in which esteemed rock critic Simon Reynolds argued that pop is caught in a constant cycle of repitition. He coins the phrase "retro-fetishism" and says we're heading for a cultural catastrophe, where "the seam of pop history is exhausted" and there is nothing left to copy.

What a load of old bollocks.

Reynolds' argument is broken down by category on the BBC website, and it's almost comically easy to refute.

For example, he compares Plan B to Phil Collins, because both are white men who appropriated the sound of Motown. Which is odd, because I don't remember Phil Collins or any of the Motown artists writing a concept album about a man accused of rape. Correct me if I'm wrong.

He goes on to say that any band who takes to the stage and performs a classic album in it's entirety is a slave to the past, committing artistic suicide.  No other artform, he argues, would rely so heavily on repackaging and re-selling its "greatest hits". He must have missed all those big municipal buildings where they hang paintings on the wall; or Hollywood's constant DVD, Blu-Ray, 3D reissuing cycle. I wonder what he thinks of the Royal Shakespeare Company?

And anyway, what's wrong with celebrating the past? Does Reynolds seriously believe all artists should emerge, blinking from the womb and create a new musical idiom from scratch? Well, I suppose it's one option - but I'd prefer to listen to Innervisions again.

Stripped of all its intellectual wordplay, Reynolds' argument essentially boils down to one point: "Modern music isn't as good as it was in my day". Which, in legal parlance, is known as the Totally Past It Granddad Argument.

Anyway, infuriated by this early-morning assault on all of logic, I messaged a friend with a timely rant. He emailed back in defence of (some of) Reynolds' points. I'm going to reprint our exchange below (and, yes, I'm aware of how egocentric that is).

My acquaintance wants to remain anonymous, by the way, so for the purposes of this article we'll call him Dr Alfonso de Pyjamabottom (Mrs).

Mrdiscopop: Please, please tell me that the Today programme has someone lined up to refute every single point in that ridiculous, facile and poorly researched argument.

Dr Alfonso: Well, Annie Nightingale had a crack, but Radio 4 listeners don't like grime, nor dubstep, in the main.

Mrdiscopop: Poor Annie! Although dubstep and grime are hardly where I'd have taken the argument, when more familiar acts like Radiohead and MIA are pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable sonically and lyrically.

Anyway, pop music has always been obsessed with pop music. The Beatles & The Stones covered Chuck Berry and the Isley Brothers, but went on to become hugely innovative. The UK punk scene, often seen as a revolution, was heavily influenced by bands like Wire and Television...

Music develops on a continuum, and the mainstream always feeds off the past. Simon's argument is just a headline looking for a reason to exist.

Dr Alfonso: Well, I think you've got a point, kind of, but I suppose I would argue that in pop music, the revolutions have not been new chord progressions or lyrics or production techniques, but a new or different attitude. You saw it in the 60s with a new kind of confidence - of not giving a shit; the 70s with serious drug-addled experimenters and then punk; then 80s smoothness and 90s hedonism. I'd probably argue that Radiohead, Sigur Ros and Arcade Fire have a new kind of emotional grandness / over-serious in their attitude - but again, that was the late 90s, early 00s.

So, obviously, there's always been recycling and referencing, but there doesn't seem to be a new attitude, a new form of rebellion, coming through. That the self created ubermench of Bowie then Madonna, then Marilyn Manson, then Lady Gaga seem still to hold sway seems pretty uninteresting now.

Do you see anything of that kind in music now? I have the feeling that all the kinds of rebellion have been mapped out, because unlike production or chords or lyrics, the options are pretty limited if you want to stay alive for a while.

Mrdiscopop: That's very true. What's more, there isn't a counter-culture for artists to tap into any more... Everything has been commercialised and branded, and artists rely on sponsorship to exist, so there's little to legitimately rebel against.

Having said that, MIA's paranoiac, anti-government lyrics have a certain frisson (even when they're undermined by her pampered lifestyle). And I think Arcade Fire articulate a sense of detachment and alienation that feels like a very 21st Century phenomenon.

Someone like Kanye West is interesting, in that he has a huge bragadoccio combined with a fragile ego - and has shamelessly dissected that throughout the course of his career. It's not really a fresh attitude, though, so much as a massively entertaining soap opera. And it leads directly to Kid Cudi, who wrote an entire album about depression and night terrors.

So, yes, rebellion seems to have taken second place to egotism (and endless rotten pop songs about "da club"). Which is perhaps indicative of society, and art as a whole... What do you think?

Dr Alfonso: Exactly, commercial egotism seems like the only attitude out there, and those who kick against it - like Arcade Fire - to try and find something more deeply felt. The options seem to be either shallow or anti-shallow.

What seems like a real shame to me was that the internet offered another system for music making - that you could rebel against the big labels, build your own scene and all that - which could usher in a more local, more personal kind of music - folk in nature if not sound.

But, as Adam Curtis is talking about in his documentary series, the internet and social media have actually made everyone converge in their opions. So everything is more conformist - especially the business side of things.

I mean, musical rebellion was always massively egotistical, but it seemed to be genuine as well in some way. And as soon as someone manages to articulate a new way of sticking it to the man, the man sees it as a huge money maker.

I think you can say the same thing about everything, though. Why was there no great new political movement that gained force after the financial crisis? Why are the depression rates spiraling out of control? There is a lack of passion in our culture that no-one has the passion to do anything about...

Does any music actually make you want to start a revolution or change your life at all any more?

Some food for thought, there.

Now... what does everyone think about the new Sugababes single?

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"You showed your ass and I saw the real you"

Doesn't anyone listen to the words they're singing any more? Jeepers creepers.

Beyoncé - Best Thing I Never Had

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While we're on the subject of murder...

Here's the video to one of the most unintentionally hilarious singles of 2011: Rihanna's Man Down.

Note to Rihanna: If you have committed a murder in broad daylight and somehow managed to evade capture, it is probably best not to confess everything in a pop song.

Second note to Rihanna: How does the lyric "I shot a man down" tally with the lyric "I didn't mean to hurt him"? There is a lack of internal coherence to your argument, and this will inevitably trip you up in the witness box.

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One to watch: Emeli Sandé

How's this for a striking lyric: "When his lungs collapse, there'll be no more breathing. I will gently close his eyes."

It's from Kill The Boy, the latest single from up-and-coming singer-songwriter Emeli Sandé. It also contains couplets like "I walk around with murder in my eyes / I'm going to turn my baby blue", and "I walk around with a bullet on my tongue / Killer written on my face."

As far as I can tell, she's not a psychopath and this is not a Charles Manson-style murder fantasy. Instead, we're in the same territory as Rihanna's Unfaithful, where the singer believes dumping her boyfriend might genuinely cause him to collapse on the floor and die. Talk about having an inflated sense of self worth.

Emeli Sandé - Kill The Boy

Emeli (I presume it's pronounced Emily) hails from Scotland and has spent 23 years on the planet you call Earth. She studied medicine at university before she chucked it all in to become a singer. Suggested headline for broadsheet writers: "From eye charts to the pop charts". You can have that for free.

Pop fans may have heard her already. She sang the hooks on Chipmunk's Diamond Rings and Tinie Tempah's Let Go. She's also worked with Magnetic Man and Cher Lloyd, and written for The Saturdays and Cheryl Cole.

With that pedigree you can make a fair guess that her solo material has an urban / dubstep influence - and her demos (which Virgin kindly played to me the other day) would prove you right. Emeli's songs are full of clattering drum patterns and squashy mid-90s synth pads. But, underpinning it all is a beautiful, nuanced soul voice.

Kill The Boy isn't all about shocking lyrical imagery, for instance. Emeli infuses it with a tenderness and regret that suggests a deeper, personal turmoil behind the break-up. Taken in conjunction with songs like Daddy, about addiction in all its forms, it indicates an artist with wider emotional range than her younger peers like Katy B or Yasmin (who I also love).

So, Emeli's already been added to my "sound of 2012" longlist. A couple of her demos and early acoustic sessions are floating around on YouTube. Here are two of my favourites.

Emeli Sandé - Easier In Bed

Emeli Sandé - Daddy (acoustic)

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Eeek! I've entered my third millennium...

Well, here is a tiny milestone in the lifespan of this blog: The 2,000th post.

Looking back, I realise a few things... The jokes aren't as funny as I think, I'm prone to making snap judgements about new music, and approximately 5% of all the posts are about Girls Aloud.

Sorry about that.

I won't navel-gaze for too long, as I'm cruelly aware that my number one Google search result since 2007 has been for "Kristin Chenoweth naked" (and variations thereupon - spelling her name is hard). That takes you to this page which, one day, I will replace with a big flashing jpeg that says "HELLO PERVERTS" in an awesomely futile display of hypocrisy.

Since its inception, the blog has always been about encouraging me to look for new music. I have a self-imposed target of writing every weekday, and generally manage to meet it. The result? I've discovered some of my favourite artists (hello, Marina!) and genuinely angered some of my least favourite artists (hello, Professor Green!). What's more, I've ended up writing and broadcasting about music for a living - and these days, the site often features first drafts of longer articles in the "professional" realm.

So, if you're reading this and you fancy writing about music, why not set up your own blog? It will either help or drive you crazy. As it turns out, the two results aren't perceptibly different.

The 2,000th post wouldn't be complete without a Girls Aloud video tacked on to the end, so here's one I've never featured before: Nadine being chased around the stage by a wasp.

Comedy gold.

Girls Aloud - Call The Shots (wasp version)

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