Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Nicola Roberts and a CGI biscuit

When you watch Yo Yo, the new video by Nicola Roberts, you will notice a lot of empty white space in the frame. I can only assume that the director's original intention was to add a CGI character - EG a happy chocolate chip cookie - but ran out of money before work could be completed.

Because I am a caring, sharing type of person - I have taken a couple of stills from the video and photoshopped in the missing character, who shall henceforth be known as Gary The Biscuit. I think you will agree it is a complete triumph.

Here is the unfinished* version of the video. The song is quite brilliant, by the way.

Nicola Roberts - Yo Yo

* Obviously, this is actually the finished version and I am being "humorous".

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Someone told Bruno Mars how to get to Sesame Street

This little video of Bruno Mars and the stars of Sesame Street exists in the same universe as Olly Murs' X Factor performance with the Muppets - but is precisely 9,074 times less irritating.

Bruno Mars - Don't Give Up

Doesn't that make you feel a whole lot better?

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Mini-me video frenzy

The fifth single from Noah And The Whale's album Last Night On Earth is going to be Give It All Back. A semi-factual account of the band's formation, the song recounts their "nervous and awkward" first gig at a school assembly, back when they were called Devil's Playground. It's a scene many will find familiar...

I still remember the sixth form concert where my first group made its stage debut. As this was 1991 we had co-ordinated our wardrobes, having earlier decided that blue suede waistcoats and white cotton shirts were 'bodacious threads'. Our closing number, an ambitious syncopated funk number, was widely discussed for days afterwards. And by "discussed", I absolutely mean "ridiculed".

For the video to Give It All Back, Charlie Fink and Co. have recreated their first performance using a special rose-tinted lens that makes their tentative steps onto the stage look incredibly accomplished. In fact, inter-cutting the child actors with the current line-up kind of makes the adults look bad at their job.

Noah And The Whale - Give It All Back

While the kids-version-of-adult-band thing is very cute, this isn't the first video to attempt it. For example...

Queen - The Miracle

Michael Jackson - Bad (Moonwalker version)

There have got to be more. Can you name any?

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis cover Serge Gainsbourg

Admittedly, this post is more for the headline than the music - but just take a minute to let that sentence sink in: Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis have covered Serge Gainsbourg.

Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis – Ballade de Melody Nelson

Fans of pervy French lounge pop will be pleased to know that this comes from an album of Gainsbourg covers, produced by his son Lulu. Also featuring are Rufus Wainwright, Iggy Pop and Scarlett Johansson, who turns in a listlessly romantic performance on Bonnie & Clyde.

Scarlett Johannson and Lulu Gainsbourg - Bonnie & Clyde

The album, From Lulu To Gainsbourg, is available for pre-order on Amazon. Me, I'm off to spend the day watching Vanessa Paradis videos on Youtube. I always loved that album she did with Lenny Kravitz in the early 1990s, in an unashamedly non-ironic way (yes, even the inexplicably faithful cover of the Velvet Underground's drug anthem Waiting For The Man).

Vanessa Paradis - Natural High (live 1994)

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Thursday, November 24, 2011


Competition time: There are nine foxes illustrated below, but only one of them is amazing new synthpop artist Foxes. Which is which? Only you can decide.

Clicking on the correct picture will take you to a free download of Foxes' new single, Youth. One of the others will take you to a video of a penguin attacking a human man.

Every picture hides a prize. Everyone's a winner, "etc".

Foxes is 22-year-old Louisa Rose Allen (no relation to Lily but you can see why she's ditched the name) and she's just been signed up to very-good-at-spotting-female-talent record label Neon Gold. Youth comes out as a 7" vinyl in January - and if you can't be bothered with clicking on all those images, here's the video for the b-side Home.

Foxes - Home

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Rebecca Ferguson's record label wakes up

What do you mean, the single came out on Monday? But we have... there's no... I didn't... Steve. STEVE! Where did you put that fucking Rebecca Ferguson video? Well, for Christ's sake stop messing about with the colour saturation and bung it up on YouTube now, before her manager comes over here and rams thistles down our underpants.

Rebecca Ferguson - Nothing's Real But Love

PS: I haven't dared to mentioned it before, but I really like this song. Apparently my brain had been craving a Corinne Bailey Rae knock-off sung by Heather Small, without ever alerting me to the fact. You live and learn.

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Michael Kiwanuka is spellbinding

I was lucky enough to catch up with Michael Kiwanuka for a quick chat yesterday, just before he made his debut performance on Later... With Jools Holland. His biggest concern was not the performance, or the pressure of appearing after Bjork (who was suitably mental). No, he was worried that Jools would get his name wrong. Apparently, teachers used to call him all sorts of things, from Michael Kawasaki to Michael Kenkenkenken.

Luckily, Jools had been practising in his dressing room and the public were correctly introduced to an incredible young artist. I swear, he is practising actual magic in this performance. Simply stunning.

Michael Kiwanuka - I'm Getting Ready (Later performance)

If you tune in to the main edition of Later, this Friday night, Michael will pop up again doing an entirely different tune. My advice: record it and skip through the Red Hot Chili Peppers to get to the good bit.

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New Marina and the Diamonds: Starring Role

The endearing thing about Marina And The Diamonds is that, at heart, she's a ginormous fruitcake.

She spends her life trying to convince us she's a Bjönkers avant-garde multimedia alternative artist who's found herself making pop music by accident, when in reality she's just a brilliant pop star with amazing lips.

It's great, therefore, that all the early material from her Electra Heart project is so straightforward and gimmick-free. Radioactive was a chugga chugga dance behemoth (the Starsmith remix is still one of my favourite things of the year) and the latest single, Starring Role, staples a cataclysmic R&B beat to a typically melodramatic Marina melody.

Marina told me last month that the Electra Heart album eventually forms a story about a doomed relationship. So if Radioactive is the first scene - a giddy headrush of sexually-charged romance - the new single drops us right into the action at the end of act II.

"When I'm in my bed, all you give me is a heartbeat," complains our heroine, "I'd rather walk alone than play a supporting role".

Marina's blog describes the version of the track that came out last night as a demo. If so, the single mix must surely be IMMENSE. Can't wait for 2012...

Marina and the Diamonds - Starring Role

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Muppets: All aboard a Conchord

Frustratingly for those of us in the UK, Disney are holding back the new Muppet Movie until February next year. In the States, however, its hitting cinemas on Christmas Day and the reviews, which started coming out over the weekend, have been overwhelmingly positive.

The film's directed by James Bobin, who put together cult musical sitcom Flight Of The Conchords for HBO, and he's roped in ex-Conchord Bret McKenzie to write the film's original songs. The opening number is Life's A Happy Song, and here's Kermit doing an acoustic performance with McKenzie for the New York Times.

Kermit and Bret McKenzie - Life's A Happy Song

If that's got you excited for the film, it's only 79 days to go before we get to see the real thing :(

The Muppet Movie - Trailer

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Art vs Commerce vs Who Cares?

Do you have music that you hold in reserve for specific occasions?

Long car journeys are fundamentally incomplete without a windows down, top-of-the-lungs rendition of Living On A Prayer. When I'm running, I prefer something languorous like Adele or Radiohead - because pop music encourages me to go faster, giving me bigger stitches than Frankenstein. If I forget the iPod on a run, my brain automatically plays Nena's 99 Red Balloons on an endless loop. Welcome to my nightmare.

The obvious conclusion is that musical choice is dictated by mood and circumstance. That's why I'm puzzled by people who claim to only like one type of music (for reasons I cannot fathom, that one type of music is usually punk).

As if by magic, I had two separate parts of my musical brain tickled this weekend. On X Factor, Rihanna gave an atypically smiley performance of We Found Love that stimulated the "going down slides and bouncing on trampolines" part of my cranium. She was also wearing Fuck You shoes, in some sort of mishandled tribute to Germaine Greer.

Rihanna - We Found Love (X Factor

Meanwhile, the "ooh that's very clever, how did they do that?" side of my cerebral cortex, was on the receiving end of some heavy flirtation from art-rock outfit Field Music.

Their polyrhythmic new single (I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing has a twitching energy that sounds like an R&B groove after a nervous breakdown. It'll make you want to dance, but you'll dance like Thom Yorke pissing on an electric fence.

Field Music - (I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing

Both of these pieces of music get me excited in very different ways - so I'll never understand why anyone would close themselves off to either. Mind you, I wouldn't listen to Taio Cruz even if he was standing next to me, threatening my dog with a rusty knife*, so it turns out I'm as big a snob as anyone else. Tsch.

* Except I don't have a dog so the joke is on you, Cruz. The joke is on you.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Turn around bright eyes

Ceremonials, the new album from Florence and the Machine has "divided critical opinion" - ie the people who got fed up of You Got The Love are taking out their rage on Florence's new material. Admittedly, the album isn't punch-you-in-the-balls immediate but give it time and it will congeal like Olive Oil in a refrigerator.

With that awkward introductory paragraph out of the way, let's take a look at Florence's new video which accompanies the very good single No Light, No Light.

Florence And The Machine - No Light, No Light

Now, is it just me, or has Florence spent a little bit too much time watching old Bonnie Tyler videos?

Total Eclipse of the Heart - Literal Video Version by BalloDaSballo

UPDATE: The always on-the-ball Adrian from the Ace Discovery blog points out that portions of the video are also inspired by this fantastic photograph, taken by Vogue photographer Erwin Blumenfeld on the Eiffel Tower. Yikes.

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She came, she saw, she conquered

After all the effort she put into the blockbusting, ball-breaking, rump-shaking videos for Countdown and Run The World (Girls) it's a shame that Beyoncé has delivered such a run-of-the-mill performance clip for the gargantuan torch ballad, I Was Here.

All we get is a bit of live footage, some home video, an oddly boastful lyric about achieving her dreams (sorry, "leaving her footprints on the sands of time") and one or two cameos. No-one too high profile, though. Just Prince, Michael Jackson, Nelson Mandela, Barbara Streisand and Barack Obama.

Beyoncé - I Was Here


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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Michael Kiwanuka: In his own words

24-year-old Michael Kiwanuka is my favourite new artist of the year. You might not have heard of him, but I suspect that's only because no-one has worked out how to pronounce his name yet (hint: it's Key-wahn-oo-ka, or key wanker if you're being lazy).

The Londoner started off as a session musician, lending his talents to the likes of Labrinth before striking out on his own. Musically, he's a relic from a bygone era, when men had polyester pants and ladies had big perms and the big perms were flammable. It's smoky, bluesy soul - the kind of thing Starsky and Hutch would have played on their 8-track when they were in "romance mode".

He's already released two stunning EPs this year and a third is planned for the first week in January - when he will no doubt be nestling near the top of those "critics' choice" tipsheets.

The lead track from the EP is called Home Again, and it sounds like this.

Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again

Lovely, eh?

With those two early EPs under his belt, Kiwanuka has already been feted by the great and the good of the music press. And also some blogs. So, to save you the bother, here's what you can learn about his music, his upbringing and his inspirations with a quick spot of Googling.

"I didn't intend for my voice to sound old. I guess I'm just lucky."

[Channel 4]

"I thought maybe I could be a songwriter for people... but I realised that if you haven't sung any songs, no one's gonna know you're a songwriter."
[The Stool Pigeon]

"I was at Glastonbury the year Jay-Z played and I didn't have a tent. I would not recommend doing that."

"When I was working as a session musician, [people] thought it was weird that I was black and playing music that sounded like folk. The reason why I really dig Bill Withers is because he encapsulates that. To me his music sounds like folk music. He's labelled a soul artist, which he is, but to me that's the same sound as a Dylan record or Joni Mitchell record. So he's a big influence."
[Fraff - this is a great interview, by the way. Read it all if you can.]

"My brother and I broke our record player when we were very young, so we had no music until we were, like, 12. We were fighting. I remember his head hitting the needle."

[Radio 2]

"I spent about a month in March and April just doing support slots for Adele in the UK. I've never been on tour before, so everything was brand new, you know, exciting and scary. I loved all the long drives, that I'm sure as I tour more, I'll begin to hate. All the gigs were quite small for her, but seemed huge to me."
[Quit Mumbling]

"I'm going to get the tube home after The Killers."
[Absolute Radio - backstage at Hard Rock Calling]

Seems like a nice kid. His first singles, Tell Me A Tale and I'm Getting Ready are up on iTunes. Buy them and listen to them round a log fire this Christmas. You won't be disappointed.

Michael Kiwanuka - I'm Getting Ready (live acoustic)

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Something in Common

You might know Common as the Chicagoan rapper who was vilified by Fox News after being invited to the White House earlier this year (he did record a duet with Lily Allen, so I have some sympathy with their position).

He's nothing of the sort, of course. If you want lyrics about blunts and hos and brutal murders, Common is not your go-to guy. He's more likely to be recording sappy love songs or pleas for social responsibility. The People, an album cut from his Kanye West-produced album Be, is a tribute to the "unsung heroes" of the ghetto who are "tryin' to stay legal" (it is also the only rap record to namecheck Finding Nemo).

Common's new single, Sweet, is not in that tradition. It's one of those "I'm the greatest rapper and you are a poo rapper with a stinky bum" tracks. Even here, however, the rapper's lyrical dexterity sets him apart. My favourite line: "I'm a breath of fresh air for all you asthmatic rap addicts".

The video was shot in Haiti... If you wanted to watch it in the first 24 hours, you had to pay a $1 donation to the J/P Haitian Relief Organisation. Maybe you still should?

Common - Sweet

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Don't you get fresh with me

Next month, it'll be 23 years since Neneh Cherry stretched a black lycra skirt over her baby bump and did this to Top Of The Pops.

Neneh Cherry - Buffalo Stance (TOTP, December 1988)

Amazingly, the sight of an eight-month pregnant woman on primetime television became a big talking point in the papers. Cherry was nonchalant: "It [the baby] wasn't planned," she told The Guardian. "It's a crazy time for it to happen, but now it has to be part of the process. I'm not going to put on a big black robe and vanish for six months."

Buffalo Stance went on to become a hit on both sides of the Atlantic and Cherry's debut album, Raw Like Sushi (produced by Massive Attack, Bomb The Bass and Cherry's future husband Cameron McVey) is one of the best female-perspective rap records ever released. Refreshingly, it avoids the man-bashing, hyper-sexualised conventions of female MC-ing and talks about sex education, growing pains and, years before Kanye had the same idea, gold-diggers. "You're just one kiss alimony," from Heart, is one of my all-time favourite lyrics.

I was 15 when Raw Like Sushi came out and I was obsessed with it. In fact, Bufflao Stance would be my karaoke song of choice if anyone ever bothered to make a karaoke version of it... So imagine my surprise when I discovered last night that the song was originally a b-side produced by Stock Aitken & Waterman?!??!

The song in question was called Look Good Diving With The Wild Bunch. It was a remix of Looking Good Diving, by a duo called Morgan-McVey (that's Cherry's future husband again). Essentially a Rick Astley reject with a cod-reggae piano, it is one of the worst things I have ever heard (the video, which has Neneh Cherry playing guitar, is on YouTube if you want to see for yourself).

The b-side however was a complete rewrite, with a guest rap from Cherry that features about 90% of the lyrics that went on to become Buffalo Stance. The song's hook and a sample from Janet Jackson's Nasty also make an appearance. Yet this came out in 1986 - two years before Cherry signed her recording contract with Virgin and celebrated by getting a baby up her (oh, the irony).

Cameron McVey - Looking Good Diving With The Wild Bunch (ft Neneh Cherry)

By the way, this sort of thing - discovering an entirely new aspect to a song I've known for over two decades - is what I love about music. It's why I habitually go and check the racks in HMV for artists whose complete discography I own on both vinyl and CD. Maybe, my brain tells me, they'll have an album or a remix you have inexplicably not heard of until today. It's never actually happened, but I am certain that one day it will.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

You want updates? We got updates

My, my - this weekend has been a veritable goldmine of brilliant music. None of it on our televisions, of course. That would be too much to ask. Still, here's what's happening with some of the biggest Discopop Directory all-stars...

1) Nicola Roberts is still allowed to release singles

Which is a good thing because Yo-Yo, the third release from her album Cinderella's Eyes is the best so far.

It's not out until January - but here's Nicola performing it, all acoustic and spooky, at something called the "BT Digital Music Awards".

Nicola Roberts - Yo Yo

2) Beyoncé plays with the Roots on US TV.

This performance of Countdown is worth watching just for ?uestloves hi-hat paradiddles. If you prefer pretty women to watching drummers, I suppose Beyonce is reasonably attractive.

3) Little Boots lets us hear her new single

There was a sneak preview of Shake (Until Your Heart Breaks) on the Little Boots mixtape I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. The full track got its first radio play on Annie Mac's Radio One show the other night and it sounds incredible - like St Etienne covering La Isla Bonita, remixed by Inner City. A return to Little Boots club origins, this is much more in the vein of Stuck On Repeat than Remedy. Hooray!

Little Boots - Shake

4) Yasmin revives a late 1980s hip-hop drum sample

Yasmin is back with a Ms Dynamite duet called Light Up (The World). The drum loop will be familiar to anyone who's heard King Bee's Back By Dope Demand. And crate-diggers will know the sample originally comes from the Lyn Collins track Think. To be honest, the Yasmin song makes it too prominent, overpowering what is at heart quite a sweet reggae melody. Still, the video is a sumptuous feast of Cuban loveliness.

Yasmin - Light Up (The World)

5) War Of Words get a very good remix

Up-and-coming girl band War Of Words have had their album written by Ben off of La Roux, so it's not entirely surprising that he's been in the studio making a remix of their first single that sounds slightly more like La Roux. It goes like this.

War Of Words - Panic (Ben's Panic Street Beaters Remix)

Now, what am I going to write about for the rest of the week?

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Raggy dolls, raggy dolls. Dolls like you and me.

Last thing on Friday, here are Friendly Fires with their new video, Hurting. The song is one of the more sparse, accessible tracks off their fussy second album, Pala, with a finger-popping 80s synth fizz. In keeping with the song's breezy exuberance, director David Lewandowski (who worked on Tron Legacy) has come up with a brilliantly daft storyline, which simultaneously celebrates and takes the piss out of singer Ed Macfarlane's rag doll dancing "style".

I won't spoil any surprises... Just click on the play button.

Friendly Fires - Hurting

Now that you've seen the video, would it be unfair to suggest that Lewandowski has just grabbed a fistful of record company dollars to make a bigger-budget version of his YouTube short Going To The Store?

I'm saying "no".

Going To The Store

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The soothing sounds of The Staves

A stave is one of the wooden strips that forms the side of a barrel. It is also the bedrock of Western musical notation and an Icelandic mystical symbol. From today, we can also define staves as "three girls who make the sort of music Laura Marling would make if she had been triplicated in a special human photocopying machine and stopped being a big old miseryguts all the time".

Tortured opening paragraphs aside, what I'm driving at is that The Staves are a very good, very new band made up up of three young women called Emily, Jessica and Camilla (so it's safe to assume they're not from the desolate inner city wastelands of London).

In fact, they hail from the sleepy commuter town of Watford - but listening to their music will transport you to the snow-capped mountains of Appalachia. Gentle harmonies are the order of the day here. It's exactly the sort of thing Fleet Foxes would record if (a) they had less facial hair and (b) their second album wasn't quite so disappointing.

In keeping with the incestuous nature of the British folk scene, The Staves have toured with Mumford And Sons. But they've snared two of the biggest names in the business to produce their debut album - Glyn and Ethan John, whose roster includes The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, Kings Of Leon and (sound the nepotism alarm) Laura Marling.

You can get two free MP3s in exchange for your age and sex* by visiting The Staves' official website. To whet your appetite, here's their new single Mexico.

The Staves - Mexico

* I've belatedly noticed how this reads. They want to know your gender. No need to sell your body for free music. The industry's in bad enough shape as it is...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What's the Rihanna album like, then?

Earlier in London, Rihanna's manager Jay Brown played a group of journalists her new album, Talk That Talk. He played it at full blast over a pair of speakers with a red warning light that kept flashing to tell us our hearing was being irreparably damaged.

It is impossible to review an album under these circumstances. Some songs (the best songs) take a couple of plays to fully reveal their beauty. But here are some very brief impressions of the record that's being released on 18 November.

1) You Da One
Second single. Mid-tempo love song with a reggae tinge. Key lyric: "My love is your love and your love is mine". Nothing like the Whitney Houston song.

2) Where Have You Been?
Glowsticks ahoy! We are in club territory, waving our hands around like we just don't care, unless we care about waving our hands around, in which case we are in perfect harmony with our wants and needs and desires. Where Have You Been contains an amazing acid house bass line and no discernible tune.

3) We Found Love
Calvin Harris's production sounds incredibly good on these speakers.

4) Talk That Talk - with Jay-Z
Rihanna is "gon' give it to me right". Across the 11 tracks of this record, Rihanna claims she is gon' give it to me approximately 42 times. I have not received it once. What a swizz.

5) Cockiness (I Love It)
This song genuinely features the lyric "suck my cockiness". People in the room look visibly pained.

6) Birthday Cake
At 1 min 18 secs, this is more of an interlude than a song. The chorus goes "cake, cake, cake, cake, cake". Actually quite good.

7) We All Want Love
Jangly guitar ballad. Incredibly shrill.

8) Drunk On Love
Includes massive Ryan Tedder snare drum sound. Rihanna says she is "drunk on love" and "nothing can sober me up" but she doesn't even sound tipsy.

9) Roc Me Out
At first, this appears to be a big rumpo number - this album's equivalent of S&M or Rude Boy. Then suddenly Rihanna declares "I'll let you in on a dirty secret, I just want to be loved". I KNEW IT! I BLOODY KNEW IT!

10) Watch N' Learn
Sadly not a tribute to Nintendo's classic Game'n'Watch series. Sad Mario face.

11) Farewell
A very sweet, stirringly dramatic power ballad. "Somebody's going to miss you," coos Rihanna as she sends her lover out the door, "And that somebody is me". The video must conclude with a shot of Rihanna in her apartment, hugging herself in a sweater and staring out the window.

And that is it. Talk That Talk is just 35 minutes long, unless you fork out the Deluxe edition, in which case you get a further 12 minutes of music.

You should consider splashing out the extra cash because, for once, the bonus tracks are actually better than the main album. In particular Red Lipstick, produced by Chase & Status (its based on their track, Saxon), is a hugely adventurous voodoo dance track. Rihanna's voice is layered over itself dozens of times, with fluttering harmonies competing with vocodered chants and Jamaican dancehall call-outs. In my notes, I've crossed out "quietly funky" and written "noisily funky" instead.

Do Your Thing, another bonus track, is a proper pop song which, bravely, samples the drum sounds from Umbrella, and features a corking tongue-twister chorus: "I know you like lips and chicks and looking at hips in a little outfit", while the Dr Luke-produced Fool In Love has the album's only axe solo. It's gnarly, dude.

As I said, however, first impressions can be deceptive. The most useful and factual review I can give is about how the album will move your feet across a dance floor (or, if you're me, a bedroom floor). To that end, here is a graph of how the record's tempo changes across the 11 tracks of the standard edition, drawn in real time as I listened to the record.


PS Here is an article with Rihanna's manager talking about the album after the playback session. He has some interesting things to say about album lengths and release schedules.

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"I've got such tiny arms"

That's one of the strangest lyrics of the year, courtesy of Pittsburgh sample freaks Wise Blood. Singer Christopher Laufman may look like a T-Rex with those tiny arms, but his spooktastic new single Loud Mouths, is rather brilliant. Imagine Prince had died but was continuing his recording career via mediums and seances. This is what you'd get.

Loud Mouths starts out with a creepy backwards choir. It sounds like a chopped up sample of Queen's Somebody To Love - but if you reverse the track yourself, it turns out to be a choral recording of a hymn called Holy, Holy, Holy.

When the minimalist drums kick in, Laufman looms over the track with a demonic falsetto. He appears to be making a twisted proposal to some unattainable lady: "When I make some money, I'll buy you clothes". I have no idea why thinks boasting about his foreshortened limbs could be seductive. Maybe his paramour is a big fan of Cee-Lo Green?

Wise Blood - Loud Mouths

There's not much information about Wise Blood online, but I've been able to gather that they're a trio, that they're named after the Flannery O'Connell novel, that Christopher works in a cemetery, and he was once nearly killed by a Bison. So nothing too out of the ordinary, then.

Loud Mouths is getting some love on Radio One's specialist shows - but this YouTube playlist shows it's not a one-off. There are some really interesting presentations of what is, essentially, melodic pop music in Wise Blood's work. Maybe you'll find it a little pretentious, but this is the sort of thing that eventually filters down and influences what you hear on daytime radio.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A very, very good hip-hop ballad by Nneka

I'm a big fan of Nigerian-born R&B star Nneka, whose blend of hip-hop and R&B fits snugly in my iPod between Lauryn Hill and Jill Scott. Her latest single is called Stay and it's one of those rare things - a hip-hop ballad that isn't a total cringefest (LL Cool J - I'm looking at you).

Ditching the political messages of the previous singles from her album Soul Is Heavy, this is a heartfelt plea to an absconding lover - with a smoke-filled sepia shade that's similar to The Roots' You Got Me, coincidentally one of my favourite songs of all time.

The video is as striking as the song it accompanies - Nneka appears in animated form, constantly in silhouette as she walks the planet in search of her errant beau.

Your ears will like this, I guarantee.

Nneka - Stay

Nneka plays London’s Dingwalls on the 30 November. I'll definitely be there.

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Madonna's new single: A play-by-play analysis

Give Me Your Love, the new single from Madonna, leaked online yesterday - first as a 15 second clip, then as a full-length demo. With more bubbles than an aero, the song is disarmingly naive - a thoroughbred pop song, as disposable as a used condom.

The audio is below but, in case it gets yanked off the internet by lawyers, here's what to expect.

00:00 - 00:07 It starts with a chant "L.-U- V Madonna / Y-O-U You wanna?". Try not to imagine Madonna looking all sinewy and wizened in a cheerleader's outfit at this point.

00:08 - 00:10 A chugga-chugga bassline kicks in. Madonna sings, "I see you coming and I don't wanna know your name". We are in pop cliché territory, folks, and there's no turning back.

00:28 - 00:32 "Maybe you'll be fine, as long as you don't lie to me". Lying is a recurring lyrical theme in Madonna's recent output - see also Sorry and She's Not Me.

00:34 - 00:39 This bit sounds just like Beautiful Stranger.

00:41 - 00:45 "Every record sounds the same," sings Madonna, over a backing track that sounds just like Hello by Martin Solveig (who produced this).

00:49 - 00:55 THE CHORUS - If this doesn't gain a large dollop of synth handclaps in the final mix, there is no justice in this world.

01:08 - 01:22 Second verse, same as the first

01:22 - 01:24 "You can be my lucky star". Metatext alert.

01:25 - 01:28 "We can drink some wine, Burgundy is fine, let's drink the bottle every drop". Actually Madonna, I prefer a Sancerre. But if you're buying....

02:00 - 02:13 Nice middle eight section with sampled lyrics and Street Fighter II sound effects.

02:15 - 02:40 SOUND THE DUBSTEP WARNING KLAXON. This is just a demo, so all we have are some squelchy fart noises and a slow drum beat, but if this doesn't become a WUB WUB dubstep breakdown I will eat my hat, and a conical bra for dessert.

02:41 - 02:53 Final bridge sung over acoustic guitar. Sounds exactly like Secret.

02:53 - 03:24 Climactic chorus (needs work). Song ends abruptly instead of fading out which is how it should be. Fade-outs are for wimps.

All told, Give Me Your Love is probably the strongest Madonna single, melodically-speaking, since Don't Tell Me 11 years ago. Like many of her recent records it deliberately references her hits from the 1980s and 1990s - whether this is clever writing or a lack of inspiration is up for debate.

Still, this is 100% better than anything on the appallingly bland Hard Candy - and William Orbit is allegedly back on production duties for the album - so hopes are high for 2012.

Madonna - Give Me All Your Love

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Duran Duran: The supermodels are back

The new video from Duran Duran looks very expensive and raises a few smiles. True to form, they've hired a bunch of supermodels - but unlike Girls On Film, the ladies keep their clothes on, and get to play at being rock stars. Naomi Campbell is Simon Le Bon, Eva Herzigova does Nick Rhodes, Helena Christensen plays Roger Taylor, and Cindy Crawford is John Taylor... The Mark Ronson-produced song, Girl Panic, is intercut with fly-on-the-wall footage and interviews, that quite bravely poke fun at Duran Duran's lowered status in the pop firmament: "Silence doesn't mean you're forgotten".

The song's rubbish, of course.

Duran Duran - Girl Panic!

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Cher Lloyd in "quite good" shocker

Here's something I stumbled across while channel surfing yesterday - a surprisingly pretty acoustic version of Cher Lloyd's With Ur Love, performed on time-honoured children's show Blue Peter.

Cher Lloyd - With Ur Love

I like how Cher has jettisoned her usual look (child kidnapped for an Eastern European circus) for a very sober black top and blazer. It's like she equates being on Blue Peter with meeting The Queen.

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Backstage at the MTV EMAs

I've just spent the weekend back in my hometown of Belfast, watching the MTV Awards take over the city. Very surreal to see kids camped outside The Europa (akathe most frequently bombed hotel in Europe) screaming for Justin Bieber. Who was staying somewhere else.

Deranged Beliebers aside, Belfast treated the awards with the usual mixture of excitement and bemusement. Lady Gaga "looked like a teapot", one young fan told me after queuing up to see her for hours.

Backstage, the MTVs are exceptionally well run... on the red (well, pink) carpet, I was sandwiched in between a Polish TV crew and two Swedish women who claimed to be journalists but only ever asked the stars for a photograph. Everyone was very excited by Jessie J, no-one wanted to interview LMFAO. Fame is a cruel mistress.

Of course, the big draw was Gaga herself. We bumped into her personal flight crew the night before the show, who told us she'd be sporting a more feminine look this weekend. Which was true, if you consider stapling a dustbin lid to your forehead a feminine look. In Gaga's world, I think it possibly does. Here's her performance of Marry The Night.

Lady Gaga - Marry The Night (EMA 2011)

Backstage, the superstar was one of the few who was gracious enough to actually speak to the press after winning an award. She kept us waiting for an hour, mind you, and then only agreed to answer three pre-scripted questions from a hand-picked journalist from Capital FM. But that's all anyone needed...

Rather brilliantly, she was wearing a chainmail dress that was so tight she was unable to walk - having to either shuffle or be physically lifted up by a bodyguard to get around the press area. She asked us "not to take pictures while I'm stumbling around" so I have a video on my phone instead. I'm not publishing it, though, no matter how much you beg.

For me, though, the best performance of the night came from J-J-J-Jessie J. She was very sweet on the red carpet, too... Fretting over what she was going to say in her tribute to Amy Winehouse and talking up new acts like Lana Del Rey and Wretch 32. She even looked slightly less fembotic than normal in her Dolce & Gabanna pantsuit.

Jessie J - Price Tag (EMA 2011)

In case you're wondering, the "streaker" was clearly a stunt. Before the show, Hayden Panettiere had told us to expect a surprise during her appearance. Later she professed that it was genuinely unscripted - but I think this quote gives it away a bit: "God bless Europe. You guys can have naked people running around, I don't understand. If this had been the US you would have had the police come in and he'd have been arrested. It would've been a disaster".

Here's a couple of hastily-grabbed iPhone shots from the red carpet. Don't think I lead a glamorous life, though. You're missing the five hours of hanging around in the cold with nothing but a soggy sandwich for company.

Jessie J - "It's a celebration of music"

Gaga - "Don't take photos of me while I'm stumbling"

The Hoff - "I kissed a Gaga and I liked it"

Queen and Lizo Mzimba - "We're the oldest people here by about 1,000 years"

Katy B - "I'm not wearing this outfit to the afterparty as my boobs would fall out"

Bibermeister - "no questions, please"

Me and my award - "I was just honoured to be nominated. I never expected to win. This is for the fans and God."

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Inexplicable Laura Marling performance

I just stumbled across this Laura Marling "in session" video on the superb Wongie's Music World blog and I can't stop watching it... Because I have to know what the trick is.

How does Marling produce such a resonant, bewitching, pure vocal with so little effort? Her mouth barely opens wide enough to stuff in a Jaffa Cake. More disturbingly, I can't see a single frame where she appears to breathe in.

The only logical explanation is that Keith Harris is hidden in the corner, throwing his voice.

Laura Marling - I Was Just A Card (WNYC session)

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Foster The People mucking about in a mansion

Warning: Today's video contains scenes of a man ramming his giant fist into a cavernous opening.

Foster The People look like they had a lot of fun making the video for Call It What You Want. Filmed in a stately home and featuring a number of comfortable-looking dressing gowns, it sees singer Mark Foster firing paint at a group of scantily-clad models, drummer Mark Pontius getting fruity with a crimson lipstick, and bassist Cubbie Fink (not his real name, I'd wager) being dragged across a patio by a butler.

There is also a stop-motion sequence where an English breakfast sings the chorus.

It's all rather brilliantly unhinged, in keeping with the title card's statement that "idle minds are the devil's workshop". The song is pretty good, too. Watcg / listen / enjoy / buy.

Foster The People - Call It What You Want

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

VV Brown back. For good?

Two years ago, when every pop blog on the planet was going doo-lally about VV Brown, I held my tongue. Crying Blood and Shark In The Water were good singles, but too self-consciously kerrrrr-azy for me. The retro doo-wop beats, frenetic vocals and over-styled hairpieces made VV come across like Amy Winehouse on bad drugs, before that sounded like an criminally insensitive thing to say.

My reticence was somewhat justified: Despite a main stage performance at Glastonbury and critical adulation from the likes of Roger Daltrey and Damon Albarn, VV's album slipped down the walls of the top 40 faster than pudding batter.

But times change, people change, fashions change, property values depreciate and Bruce Forsyth defies the black hand of death. Now, after an extended period of silence, VV Brown is back for a second bite of the pop pie - and this time she's got new, improved dentures.

Her second album Lollipops and Politics is due next year - but the first single has just been released. Called Children, it's a crunchy R&B biscuit that's simultaneously more formulaic and more listenable than anything she's put out before. I can't proclaim that this is heading for number one with a bullet (or even a laser pen) but it's good to see an artist being allowed to develop and mature for once. You thoughts?

VV Brown - Children (ft Chiddy Bang)

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Justin Timberlake sings Gangsta's Paradise

In an interview in today's Metro, Justin Timberlake lists his idols as: Paul Newman, Peter Sellers, Audrey Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Fred Astaire, Clark Gable, Frank Sinatra and James Dean. If anyone was still holding out hope for a third album from the frizzy-haired pop genius, that list pretty much kills it stone dead.

Still, we can at least take comfort in his frequent appearances on Jimmy Fallon's US chat show. Instead of promoting his latest film (some awful sci-fi nonsense called In Time) JT gave us the third in his series of "history of rap" medleys.

Among the gems were Young MC's Bust A Move, Ice Cube's Today Was A Good Day, De La Soul's Me Myself & I, Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise and, best of all, Naughty By Nature's Hip Hop Hooray.

Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon - History of Rap pt 3

You can watch Parts 1&2 here: A link to the history of rap parts 1&2.

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