Thursday, December 29, 2011

Discopop Directory Top 10 albums of 2011

Let's get this out of the way now: PJ Harvey does not feature in this Top 10 (which is actually a top 11, because I miscounted). Let England Shake topped everyone else's polls and is, on an intellectual level, a brilliant treatise on war and history. But I never woke up singing lyrics like "What if I take my problems to the United Nations?".

So these are the albums that embedded earworms in my brain. The ones I cued up on every car journey. The ones I actually listened to...

11) Lady Gaga - Born This Way

On the face of it, Born This Way is a deeply unlovable album. The production is harsh, the artwork is horrible and the tunes simply aren't there. But if you carefully select the highlights (Edge Of Glory's sax solo, Sheiße's pomposity-pricking humour and the title track's towering chorus) it's a hell of a lot of fun.

10) The Pierces - You & I

The cover of The Pierces' fourth album is designed to look like an care-worn old record, with a ghostly imprint of the vinyl visible on the sleeve. The music is a similarly faithful recreation of a bygone era - lush with harmony and classic, timeless melodies. When the polished perfection threatens to become too winsome, the band flash a glimpse of their darker side, as on the possessive growl of Love You More. Tailor-made for radio, this didn't do as well as it deserved.

9) Katy B - On A Mission

Kathleen Brien wrote songs about going to the club, her plans to go to the club, picking up boys at the club and the aftermath of having been to the club. Thankfully, it wasn't as soul-sappingly tedious as that sounds. A night out with Ms B sounds thrilling and magical, everyone clamouring for one more dance before catching the night bus home. One reviewer described On A Mission as "a glowstick Alice in Wonderland" and, frankly, I can't do better than that.

8) Noah And The Whale - Last Night On Earth

A big old FM rock album, directly inspired by Tom Petty, with choruses bigger than mountains. It's almost as if Noah and the Whale were bored of pining after Laura Marling and wanted to have some fun...

7) Beyoncé - 4

"Apparently", Beyoncé is a secret math nerd. Her album was called 4, it featured one song called 1+1 and another, Countdown, which was a tribute to Carol Vorderman's mental arithmetic skills [subs - please check].

Less edgy than her previous albums, 4 is steeped in classic soul - from the Randy Crawford-isms of Love On Top, to the Purple Rain grandstanding of 1+1's guitar solo. It all adds up (ha!) to become Beyoncé's most consistent album to date, even though it was apparently sequenced by a monkey stabbing pins into a dartboard.

6) Foster The People - Torches

You might have noticed that this top 10 is a bit oestrogen-y. Well, this is the antidote: A trio of California dudes who aren't shy of a pop hook. They may have been fêted by the indie kids because of their disturbing lyrics and quirky production techniques (he's singing through a megaphone, LOL) - but Foster The People were as shamelessly mainstream as Russell Grant being fired out of a cannon.

5) Metronomy - The English Riviera

The English Riviera opens with the sound of seagulls and a string quartet and ends with a woozy techno ode to Jill Scott. In between, it references Serge Gainsbourg, Ace Of Bass and end-of-pier Wurlitzers. It sounds bonkers - it is bonkers - but it's also a superbly-crafted record, with more musical twists and turns than a bowl of spaghetti.

4) Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes

She's a cheery sort, Lykke Li, declaring "sadness is my boyfriend" and singing wistfully of being "kicked 'til I drown". You have to hope she's seeking professional help... but would a happy, well-adjusted Lykke Li make music as mesmerising as this? From the depraved sexual pounding of Get Some, to the echo-drenched Sadness Is A Blessing, this is the most exciting album about loneliness and depression ever made.

3) Florence and the Machine - Ceremonials

Listening to Florence and the Machine is a bit like standing in a wind tunnel full of kettles - invigorating but painful. Once you get past the bluster and chaos of this over-produced album, however, you might notice that it's rammed full of tunes. Shake It Out is the best song about a horse since Father Ted, while Spectrum showcases Florence's surprisingly versatile vocal range. If there had been a few extra moments of levity - like the frothy Breaking Down - this would have been a contender for number one.

2) Nicola Roberts - Cinderella's Eyes

"I had to call the fireman, my hair was burning bridges.
I'm shooting bullets from my chest. I'm Superwoman, bitches.
And if my balls of steel have got stuck half-way down your pipe,
I brought some KY, time to open, open, open wide."

Dear all other pop stars, you have been served your notice.

Nicola Roberts - Gladiator

1) Adele - 21

Yes, that's right: It's a team ginger triumph in the top three...

She turned up out of the blue, univited, and conquered the planet. 21 is not cool, it is not original, it is not remotely contemporary - but Adele Laurie Blue Adkins' 11 tales of heartbreak, revenge, and more heartbreak and revenge touched millions. It's inspired by soul, gospel and country, but the album is defined by that voice. Adele has a clarity of tone so pure you suspect that, somewhere in the fiery depths of hell, the devil has a tiny leather box with her soul in it. Good album, though.

Adele - Set Fire To The Rain

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Discopop Directory top 10 singles of 2011

It's that time of year again... As usual, the top 10 is dictated by my iTunes play count so I can't pretend I was cool and listening to Gil Scott-Heron all year, because I wasn't. It was this instead.

10)Nicola Roberts - Beat Of My Drum

One thing we learned this year is that, if you want the lead single from your album to be a gargantuan chart hit, you shouldn't get Diplo to produce it. Beyoncé flopped with Run The World (Girls), but turned things around with her mega-spectacular Glastonbury performance. Nicola Roberts had to make do with T4 On The Beach - where someone hit her on the head with a beach ball. Poor Nicola

9) Britney Spears - 'Til The World Ends

In which the lyrics of an REM song were set to the refrain of Baltimore's Tarzan Boy. Apocalypse Wow.

8) Adele - Someone Like You

A lady, a piano, a broken heart, a televised tear, a sales phenomenon, a modern classic. Of all the songs in the top 10, Someone Like You has the most passionate, believable vocal. Why isn't it higher? Because I can't shake the feeling that the key line: "I had hoped you'd see my face and that you'd be reminded that for me it isn't over" simply doesn't scan.

7) Chase & Status ft Liam Bailey - Blind Faith

You simply can't go wrong by sampling Loleatta Holloway's Love Sensation and, in the year that she died, Chase And Status brought her disco classic bang up to date. Liam Bailey must have two-ton balls of steel, though. A total newcomer, he does all the vocal heavy lifting, ramping up the tension in the bridge so that Holloway's lines work as a pressure-release, arms-in-the-sky, hugging-complete-strangers moment. An absolute corker.

6)The Pierces - Glorious

I'm a sucker for a sun-kissed harmony, and this song is buckling under the weight of them. The middle 8 section - "I felt his hand today / Across my shoulder, I kneeled down to pray" - where the Pierce sisters go all coquettish and ethereal makes my spine tingle. A vain attempt to work out the intricacies of their pitching is what propelled this song into the top 10.

But I hadn't realised until recently that Glorious is a cover of an obscure 2007 single by US band The Levy. The original is a bit mopey, this is almost perfect.

5)SBTRKT ft Little Dragon - Wildfire

If Wildfire doesn't make your bottom move, then your bottom is malfunctioning.

4) Metronomy - The Bay

I swear that The Bay's synth riff intro is a tribute to Abba's Money Money Money (distressingly, if you type Money Money Money into YouTube, the second result is Jessie J's Price Tag, a song that wasn't even within sniffing distance of this list).

The track is probably the most explicit of the "I LOVE TORQUAY" songs on Metronomy's album about how much they love Torquay, which is really quite a lot. Crammed full of hooks and a strutting, sinewy bassline, it was also the best single they released in 2011. Even the remixes were superb: In particular Erol Alkan's extended version and the Cloud Control reworking, which took Joseph Mount's London-Paris-Tokyo lyrics and turned them into an existential techno travel advert.

The video, the band admitted, was a parody of Will Smith's Miami, filmed in England's sunny Torbay. Is there anything about this song that isn't incredible?

3) Lana Del Rey - Video Games

Gloomy and sexy like a David Lynch film, this song is simply beautiful.

2) Lykke Li - Sadness Is A Blessing

Gloomy and sexy like a David Lynch film, this song is simply beautiful.

1) Adele - Rolling In The Deep

Adele's producer Paul Epworth was interviewed on posh-nobs radio show Front Row last week, and talked about the making of Rolling In The Deep... Adele came to him with the opening line "There's a fire, starting in my heart" and they knocked out the song in an afternoon. It's an amazing piece of work - at once elemental, powerful and vulnerable.

Epworth deserves as much credit as Adele. There's a breath-stopping moment in the interview where he picks up the guitar he used on the track and chops out those muted opening chords. Even on a tinny broadcast microphone, it sounds almost like the recorded version, which goes to show how simple and clean his recordings are. Adele's writing and singing on 21 is fantastic, but its the production makes them leap out of your speakers like a panther. A big ginger panther with a filthy laugh. Song of the year.

Honourable mentions (aka "why didn't I listen to this as much as I thought I did?"): Robyn - Call Your Girlfriend / Florence & The Machine - Shake It Out / Lykke Li - I Follow Rivers / Michael Kiwanuka - Tell Me A Tale / Ronika - Forget Yourself / Kanye West - All The Lights / Emeli Sandé - Heaven / Beyoncé - 1+1 / Aloe Blacc - I Need A Dollar / Sleigh Bells - Rill Rill / Rizzle Kicks - Down With The Trumpets / Foster The People - Call It What You Want / Bombay Bicycle Club - Shuffle

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Feliz Navidad de Simon Le Bon

I'm taking the customary Christmas break from blogging... but I'll be back next week with the Top 10 singles and albums of the year (a definitive list - none of the others count).

Hope Santa brings you everything you want, and that the Top Of The Pops Christmas Day revival isn't an unholy mess. Until we meet again, here are Duran Duran, wishing you a Happy Christmas in poorly dubbed Spanish.


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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lana Del Rey: Off To The Races video

Lana Del Rey has been chopping up gun-porn B-movie footage with her trusty razor blade again.

This time it's in aid of her album taster Off To The Races. The result is all death, bubble perms, sun bleached beach babes and distressingly tight jeans.

Oh, and the song's quite good, too. After a languid, harmonically-challenged opening, Lana picks up the pace for a chirpy, suggestive chorus: "I'm your little scarlet, starlet, singing in the garden, kiss me on my open mouth."

Which is all very nice.

Lana Del Rey - Off To The Races

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

As if by magic, an Arcade Fire video appeared

I thought Arcade Fire had disappeared deep into the Rocky Mountains to ponder the follow-up to their magnificent Suburbs album. But no...

In a typically untypical act of scheduling madness, the Canucks have just released a video for The Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) - just a brief two months after they wrapped up their world tour.

If you haven't listened to the album for a while, this is the one where Régine Chassagne gets a shot at lead vocals. It sounds like a whimsical remix of Blondie's Heart Of Glass and the video features that quirky Arcade Fire "humour" that results in terrifying night visions.

Watch at your peril...

Arcade Fire - The Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains

PS: If you're feeling energetic, there's a webcam-enhanced interactive version of the video at the end of this link.

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When collaborations go right

French DJ David Guetta is basically responsible for the sound of every record you hear on chart radio these days. His formula is simple: Euphoric synths, pounding 4x4 drum beats and precipitous drops. Or, to put it another way, he's constantly recycling the thing he did on The Black Eyed Peas' I Gotta Feeling in the hope that everyone is too off their face on Vodka and Red Bull to notice.

When it goes right - eg with Rihanna on Who's That Chick - it goes very right. When it goes wrong - eg with Akon on the risible Sexy Bitch - it's like an ear infection, a migraine, the norovirus and having a spike rammed into your oesophagus all at the same time.

His latest single is a duet with Aussie jazz-pop experimentalist Sia. Probably best known in the UK for her work with coffee table chill out band Zero 7, she's an unexpected collaborator for the starstruck French producer. If you were to plot their respective careers on a graph, it would look like this graph:

Their duet is called Titanium and, appropriately enough, it's a 100% bulletproof club anthem. But I wonder what the ultimate goal is: Respect for Guetta from the internet cognoscenti? A rare chart hit for Sia? Or an unhappy mish-mash of mediocre sales and begrudgingly positive reviews from Pitchfork?

Their fate is in your hands, etc.

David Guetta ft Sia - Titanium

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

James Blake covers Joni Mitchell

For all the hype and expectation, James Blake's eponymous album didn't exactly fly off the shelves this year. In fact, it doesn't even figure in the Official Chart Company's Top 20 best-selling debuts of the year, where James was beaten by the likes of X Factor reject Mary Byrne and popular "Last Dance" hitmaker Clare Maguire.

My guess is that the James Blake sound (bleepy bloopy mumble glitch stutter bleep long pause hold-a-piano-chord-for-two minutes vocoder bloop mumble whisper) was never destined to spread beyond a very select audience. Certainly, the album suffered from incredibly bad word-of-mouth reviews from people who'd been beguiled by his angelic, but atypically straightforward, cover of Feist's Limit To Your Love. Conversely, everyone who took a punt on his live show fell deeply, irreversibly in love.

Now, the album has been - bravely - reissued in a deluxe two-disc edition and, presumably in an attempt to lure back some of those disillusioned fans, Blake has recorded another cover. This time it's Joni Mitchell's A Case Of You, one of the finest, weepiest love songs ever written.

He's actually been playing the song live for some time and the studio version seems to date back to last year, as it's sampled on several of his album tracks.

For the song's first official release, Blake has put together a video starring Rebecca Hall, of "looking incredibly hot in Vicky Cristina Barcelona" fame. And here it is...

James Blake - A Case Of You

Here's the original, from 1971's incredible Blue album, for comparison.

Joni Mitchell - A Case Of You

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Monday, December 19, 2011

New music: Azealia Banks - Liquorice

New York rap "sensation" Azealia Banks was top of the NME's Cool List of people you've probably never heard of this year. But, contrary to expectations, she's actually very good.

Regular readers will know of my obsession with Kid Sister, the Chicago MC who combines smooth 90s R&B melodies with hard Detroit house music to create the best party-time rap music since Naughty By Nature. Well, Azealia does the same thing with added sexual swear words.

Her current single, 212, is an erotically-charged ode to oral sex which uses the c-word (the really offensive one) more often than a feature-length episode of The Thick Of It. She's following it up next year with Liquorice, a slightly-less-offensive, but still taboo-busting song about inter-racial love affairs.

Speaking to Pitchfork earlier this year, Azealia said it was the song she was most excited about on her forthcoming debut album, which is being recorded with Paul Epworth in London.

She posted the track on Soundcloud over the weekend, and it's really quite something.

Liquorice by Azealia Banks

PS: If the backing track sounds naggingly familiar, that's because its lifted from a the Pineapple Crush EP by Nottingham musician Lone. You might have stumbled across the track one night when you were hastily switching off Rob Da Bank's Radio 1 show to get to Mellow Magic.

Lone - Pineapple Crush

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Rizzle Kicks vs Foster The People

Those cheeky scamps Rizzle Kicks have been scribbling all over Foster The People's piano-boogie-shout-along Call It What You Want and the results are actually brilliant.

Jordan (he's Rizzle) scatters a cheeky, self-deprecating rap over the top: "My love life's generally crap / I'm a magnet for girls who are mental and mad." While Harley (whose nickname is not Kicks but, er, Sylvester) adds a new counter-melody to the chorus which proves hard to forget when you go back to the original.

Nice work, everyone. Nice work indeed.

Foster The People - Call It What You Want (Rizzle Kicks remix)

Rizzle Kicks went into the top 20 yesterday with their latest single, Mama Do The Hump. If you haven't seen the video yet, you should check it out: The boys' mums do all the lip-syncing duties, and there's a celebrity cameo towards the end.

I won't spoil the surprise but when you see it you're reaction will undoubtedly be: "Oh, him. Of course it would be him."

Rizzle Kicks - Mama Do The Hump

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Friday, December 16, 2011

How about we call the band "Vomit Spasm"?

Sound the nomenclature alarm: We have run out of proper names for new bands.

Otherwise, how do you explain the existence of "The Cast Of Cheers", "Suck Piggy", "Nipplepotamus", "Me and the Neck" and, my personal favourite, "Supersonic Piss"?

I only mention it because someone has just emailed me new material from a Spanish artist who goes by the name of That Girl With Dark Eyes. That's like calling a book "The Papery Thing With Ink In It" or releasing a film under the title "A Series Of Rapidly Changing Still Images Which Create The Impression Of Motion Due To The Phenomenon Of Persistence Of Vision".

Maybe I'm being unfair here. Maybe Tiffany Garrett Sotomayor (for it is she) is a big fan of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo but hasn't got a distinguishing body marking she can describe in her nom de tune. And at least the title is accurate: She genuinely has got dark eyes. Two of them.

But if I were her manager, I'd suggest a new moniker - That Girl Who Has Been Recording Some Very Promising Music With Pascal Gabriel Who Did The Ladyhawke Album.

Here are two of her recent demos. If you're into Yelle or Goldfrapp or Little Boots, these will definitely be of interest.

Drop It by that girl with dark eyes

Balloon by that girl with dark eyes

PS: The Onion has an annual feature rounding up the worst band names of the year. The 2011 list is really quite something - read it here.

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Royksopp remix Kings Of Leon

Results = spectacular

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Those Sleigh Bells ring

Hipster noiseniks Sleigh Bells premiered the first single from their new album Reign Of Terror on Zane Lowe's Radio One show last night. Anyone who discovered the band through their strutting, melodic single Rill Rill, or their association with Beyonce and Diplo will be in for a shock.

Born To Lose reverts to the standard Sleigh Bells template which, to be fair, is brilliant in its simplicity: Imagine you've gone to a nativity play, but Jack White has turned up with a Peavey Amp, slashed the speaker with a razor blade and started playing buzzsaw power chords over the top of Away In A Manger. It is really that good.

An irritating bespoke embedded player that will probably crash your browser follows:

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

More free music from Diana Vickers

Great scott, Diana Vickers is literally giving it away these days. Here's the second free track from her in as many weeks, a tightly coiled electro strop with a metaphor about a big gun.

Kiss Of A Bullet features the following words: "Bang" "my" "pillows" "tonight" - but not in that order.

Diana Vickers - Kiss Of A Bullet

Apparently you have to tweet an advertising message about the song to "earn" your free download. I'd advocate setting up a new, fake twitter account for this - unless you are genuinely happy to trade part of your soul for an mp3.

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A picture of Lana Del Rey and some tigers

The video for Lana Del Rey's new-but-not-as-good-as-Video-Games single Born To Die popped up on YouTube last night.

Compared to the patchwork montage of her previous videos, it's incredibly lavish. She's surrounded by tigers in a gothic chapel, kissing some guy who can't afford a shirt, and generally playing up the whole "femme fatale" thing.

There are certain realmusicfansTM who have turned against Lana Del Rey after discovering that she'd ditched her first album, worked with new producers and bought some funny lips like Chelsee Healey off Strictly Come Dancing.

These same people will also tell you that David Bowie is a godlike genius because he changed his name, experimented with a number of voguish musical styles, and spent two years pretending to be an alien. So what do they know?

If you can bear to listen to this "fake", "manufactured" chanteuse after all that opprobrium, here is the video for the song that she has sung.

Lana Del Rey - Born To Die

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Foster The People take Gabourey Sidibe for a driving lesson

Foster The People have been turning out great music videos all year - from the "head in a fishbowl" antics of Call It What You Want to the Lord Of The Flies chamber of horror in Helena Beat.

Their latest is no exception. I won't spoil the storyline, but you could say that the clip for Don't Stop (Colour On The Walls) was inspired by Quentin Tarantino's Deathproof.

Ultimately, it distracts you from the song it's supposed to be selling - but, if I had a band, this is exactly the sort of thing I'd be doing with my promo budget.

Foster The People - Don't Stop (Colour On The Walls)

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dubstep + Funk = Funkstep

Damn! That's funky.

It's called Superbad and it's the new single from dubstep person Flux Pavillion (proper middle class name: Joshua Steele). Borrowing heavily from Isaac Hayes-era funk, this could be the theme tune for a 20th century private dick who's a sex machine to all the chicks, but treats them with respect because society has moved away from the misogynistic objectification of women. Can you dig it?

I love to hear proper drums on a dub-step track - and the combination of old-skool breaks with throbbing synth riffs shows how much of an influence The Prodigy have been on the current crop of dubstep producers. The song's title is, I assume, a portmanteau from the Blaxpolitation films Superfly and Baadassss! Personally, I think Ass-Fly would have been more memorable but that is why they do not let me make these sorts of decisions.

Doctor P & Flux Pavilion - Superbad

Superbad has been floating around the Radio 1 playlist for a couple of weeks now and is, I believe, available to buy from today. The single version doesn't fade out abruptly at the 2'00" mark, either.

Incidentally, the song made me want to dig out Michael Jai White's hilarious 2009 spoof Black Dynamite, which lampoons all the ridiculous dialogue, shonky stunt work and continuity errors of the mid-70s Blaxploitation films. Jai stars as Dyno-mite ("he's super cool and he knows kung fu"), the greatest African-American action star of the 1970s. When The Man kills his only brother and starts pumping heroin into local orphanages, it's up to him to find justice...

My favourite scene features an actor who can't differentiate between dialogue and stage directions.

The theme music from the film, recorded on vintage equipment by Adrian Younge, is a brilliantly faithful recreation of that '74 Soul Power sound. Take a listen...

So, er... There you go. I'm not quite sure how we got from the beginning of this post to where we are now but it was fun, no? ("no" - just about everyone).

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Monday, December 12, 2011

"Hard like geometry and trigonometry"

T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever) is the new solo single by shy and retiring punctuation fan It has a brilliant / ridiculous sci-fi video, in which Mick Jagger appears out of hyperspace and ruins everything.

Frankly, T.H.E. is a huge leap forward from the dead-eyed robotics of the Black Eyed Peas' last album, where apparently checked in his brain and his talent at the studio door. Until Jagger comes along, you might even find yourself thinking "I really like this song". But that's only if you ignore the lyrics.

Let's take a closer look at those lyrics, shall we?

:: "Tell a jealous chicken I don't know what the beef is."
:: "This beat is a shit. Faeces."
:: "I'mma go hard like a m*****f***ing boner"
:: "I get stacks of cash, you get cashews. I go hard, uh, statues."
:: "I'm hard like Geometry, and Trigonometry."

It would not be a surprise if the album version of this song finished with Will rapping: "This beat is harder than writing lyrics for this beat". - T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever)

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Five songs Little Mix could have released instead of Cannonball

Well done, the British Public. You correctly rejected Liverpool's premier Bruno Mars impersonator as the winner of X Factor 2011, and chose Little Mix (or "the Lidl Muffins", as Tulisa inexplicably insisted on calling them) as your winners.

Louis Walsh actually said something prescient and insightful when he declared Little Mix would be the biggest girl band in the UK next year. The year after... well, we'll have to wait and see.

HOWEVER - in a series marked by appalling decisions on behalf of the X Factor production team, Little Mix have been lumbered with Damien Rice's plodding sob-fest Cannonball as their first single. Don't get me wrong - the original is a beautiful, delicate piece of work. But it simply does not suit a teenage girl group who sing with so much force it shreds their jeans to pieces.

Here's five other songs that I've essentially chosen at random. They would all have worked better as Little Mix's debut.

1) TLC - Unpretty
Little Mix have made a point of the fact that they don't look like a typical size zero girl group. They were in tears when they performed Christina Aguilera's Beautiful in week 8. As Jesy said in the intro video, "your insecurities are what make you different," said Jesy in the intro video. TLC's Unpretty delivers the same message, but it's less heavy-handed and more suited to a vocal harmony group. Also, it's brilliant.

2) The Dixie Cups - Iko Iko
Short, fun, plenty of opportunity for harmonies. The lyric about the black civil rights movement is no more inappropriate than Cannonball, which begins with an oral sex reference.

3) The Jam - Going Underground
Because pissing off the indie kids by covering one of "their" songs is what the X Factor is all about. This comes with a ready-made key change (two of them, actually) and the video can cut to the footage of Little Mix being crowned the winners during the line "the public gets what the public wants".

4) Voice Of The Beehive - I Say Nothing
"I know what I believe, don't need to wear it on my sleeve". This is the most Girl Power thing anyone has ever said in the entire history of saying things.

5) Blur - Tender
If the winner's single absolutely has to be a plodding rework of a guitar ballad, then it should be this one. Bonus content: No need to shoe-horn in a gospel choir.

Those are just five examples but HERE'S THE AMAZING THING: Little Mix have already released a better single than Cannonball. Their superlative cover of En Vogue's Don't Let Go (Love) is currently available on iTunes. If we all buy that instead, maybe Syco will relent and make it chart eligible.

Remember kids: Little Mix's future is in your hands.

Little Mix - Don't Let Go (Love)

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Friday, December 9, 2011

New music from Diana Vickers...

The gods of pop haven't exactly been kind to Diana Vickers. She's made a handful of individual, quirky pop songs but aside from Once (which a friend once described as the "perfect radio song") she's not exactly set the charts alight.

In the current climate of budget cuts, you'd expect an artist like Diana to be dropped like a hot scone but it seems someone has faith in her abilities. She's been allowed to make a second album - which she said earlier this year would be "sexy" and "adventurous", drawing inspiration from "The xx and The Doors, and Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bjork."

Diana released Music To Make The Boys Cry as the first taster of that record this morning and, well, it's none of those things. It's just a very catchy pop song, co-written with Simen Says from Norwegian pop group Donkeyboy (whose single Ambitions was covered by Joe McElderry not so long ago).

With a whimsical, dreamlike melody and a lyric about wishing wells it paints Diana as an ethereal Alice In Wonderland figure - not too distant from the little girl lost persona she assumed for her debut.

Will it sell? It's hard to say - but this is a pleasantly diverting 3:38 for a Friday morning.

Diana Vickers - Music To Make The Boys Cry

You can get the track as a free download by signing up to the Vicko Newsletter on her official website.

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Praise be - Goldfrapp are back!

Just 10 minutes ago, Parlophone Records made a quiet announcement on the social notworking site Twitter. It looked like this.

The link takes you to Vevo - which is the crippled, deformed offspring of YouTube and Ukrainian MTV - and a beautiful video that finds Goldfrapp in soothing, reflective form. To save you the bother (and having to sit through the terrible adverts) here is the song.

Goldfrapp - Yellow Halo

Now, as far as I'm aware, Goldfrapp are no longer signed to Parlophone or EMI. So my guess is that Yellow Halo and the "second song" the label alludes to in their tweet will be the extra tracks on the band's Greatest Hits album - which Will said was in the pipeline nearly two years ago.

Whatever the story is, it's always great to have Goldfrapp around for Christmas. Hooray!

UPDATE: Alison's just taken to Twitter to confirm the Greatest Hits album, which is due in March.

Interesting spelling of melancholy.

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What is this "rapping" music all about?

That's a question my uncle asked when I was about 14 years old. It was followed by his own impression of the genre which, if I'm being generous, could be described as hilariously racist.

My own father is a bit more open-minded... In fact, he once asked me to make him a beginner's guide to hip-hop, which I dutifully compiled onto CD with a short two-page essay (NERD!). I've pulled together a Spotify playlist of the album, in case you're interested. It sticks to the more accessible aspects of rap and, since dad's a fan of poetry, there's a bias towards clever wordplay instead of gangsta posturing.

He loved it.

The compilation ends with the Black Eyed Peas' Where Is The Love, which I guess makes it nine or ten years old. With that in mind, I started to wonder what songs I'd add if I was making the CD again today? There'd definitely be some Kanye West; dad would appreciate all the Seinfeld references on WALE's Mixtape About Nothing, and the original compilation definitely suffered from a lack of Jay-Z.

But I don't think 50 Cent would get a look in (too dumb), nor would Lil' Wayne (too crass). The CD could do with a few more female voices, though. Dad already likes Janelle Monae - but I'm not sure a 60-year-old professor of medicine would appreciate Azealia Banks and her potty mouth (is there any need, Azealia? Tsk).

So I set off this morning in search of some new dad-friendly hip-hop and - surprisingly quickly - stumbled across three tracks that might get the Discopop Snr seal of approval. These are they.

Common - The Believer ft. John Legend

Ray Charles by ChiddyBang

B.O.B. - Strange Clouds

Actually, that last one uses the n-word a bit too liberally... but B.O.B's previous single Nothin' On You would fit the bill. Anyone got further suggestions??

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

At last - new music from Ladyhawke!

Instead of chucking out any old nonsense and calling it "my best work yet" (I'm looking at you, Rihanna) New Zealand pop savant Ladyhawke has been slaving away at her second album for three years. That's a fucking long time, so it had better be incredible.

Luckily, the auspices are good. She's just released the first official snippet of material - from a song called Sunday Drive. The intro is reassuringly familiar, Pip Brown's breathy vocals framed by a strutting bassline and wonky barrel piano riff. If anything, it sounds like Goldfrapp's Satin Chic punching La Roux in the face. Then, as the bridge kicks in, you start to realise that the second Ladyhawke album won't just be a retread of her first. Listen up:

ARRRGH for the video cutting off before the chorus -- but you can get an idea of what comes next by watching this shaky video of the song being played live at the 100 Club last month.

Ladyhawke - Sunday Drive

If you're a fan of crash zooms and tinny audio, you can watch practically the entire Ladyhawke concert - which is stuffed full of new material - on YouTube. The excellent HardCandy blog has put together a playlist, which you can see by clicking this highlighted text which acts as a hyperlink to an external site.

Ladyhawke's album will be called Anxiety and you can buy it next March. That's the artwork at the top of the post, by the way.

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He ain't heavy, he's my brother

There's a grand history of pop groups made up of brothers: Oasis, The Kinks, Kings Of Leon, The Jackson Five, Sparks and, ultimately, Hanson.

All of them follow an important rule - you don't mention your relationship in the band name. Groups that do, such as The Chemical Brothers, The Jungle Brothers and Brother Beyond, are only siblings in the ultra-cringeworthy "we've become so close, we're almost family" sense.

Strangely, this doesn't hold true for women. Think of The Jackson Sisters, Sister Sledge and The Pointer Sisters. We'll gloss over Shakespear's Sister for now. They didn't even bother to spell-check Shakespeare's name.

Why am I telling you this? Because there is a new band called Disclosure, who happen to be brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence. They've just come off tour with Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and are supporting SBTRKT at his UK gigs next year.

Their new single, Tenderly, is a reverential riff on mid-90s house music. Based around a repeated hook, "there's something about you", it's propelled by chunky keyboard stabs and a shuffling percussion section. You can totally see it featuring in a club scene in This Life or Queer As Folk.

Here is the bit where you can listen to it.

Tenderly by Disclosure

Tenderly and its double A-side Flow are released in January via Make Mine.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Panic on the leaves of a forest

Things that make us panic: Spiders, unsolicited phone calls, John Barrowman's face.

According to their new single, War Of Words (the exceptional pop duo who we told you about two months ago) only panic when a boy walks into the room. They don't explain why. Maybe this boy is wearing a terrifying gorilla mask. Maybe he's got bad news about the political upheavals in Syria. Or maybe he is John Barrowman. History does not record.

To promote their ode to fear, Abi and Lucy have shot a video in a forest. It looks like this.

War Of Words - Panic

Panic is out next week on 12" vinyl.

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Monday, December 5, 2011

A song I like by Gabrielle Aplin

About 18 months ago, a PR spent several weeks politely pestering me about Gabrielle Aplin. The "USP" was that she 16-year-old Gabrielle had recorded some of her favourite songs on YouTube and people quite liked them (This was long before Birdy and Conor Maynard and Charlene Soraia turned breathy, twee YouTube cover versions into a hateful subgenre all of its own).

I passed up the opportunity to write something about Gabrielle that summer. The music was pretty enough, but it felt incomplete. Weirdly, though, I was visiting Bath a couple of weeks later and saw Gabrielle's face plastered all over the town's phone boxes. It turns out she was studying for a diploma in the city and had become something of a big deal on the local music scene. I made a mental note to remember her name.

Fast forward to today, and Gabrielle has just released her first proper single, Home. It's a huge step forward: Her voice is stronger, the instrumentation is more confident, the lyrics are mature. If you're a fan of Emmy The Great or Laura Marling, this might make you go all gooey inside, like a Tunnock's Teacake. The video is below, and the EP is out on 9th January.

Gabrielle Aplin - Home

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New from Nicki Minaj - Roman In Moscow

My, my, my, she's pelican fly - but I've always thought Nicki Minaj had her wings clipped when she signed her record deal. Her early mix-tapes and guest spots were scene-stealing claps of thunder but, Superbass aside, the Pink Friday album was curiously weak.

But maybe I'm not the best judge of these things... According to Nicki's Twitter profile, she's a "Platinum selling recording artist, writer & actress. PINK FRIDAY boasts the most charted singles by any female rap album in Billboard history." Eat on that, haters.

Refreshingly, the follow-up to Pink Friday seems like it'll go heavy on the snarl and swagger. Nicki released the first track, Roman In Moscow, over the weekend and it literally collapses under the weight of its own attitude.

By the two-minute point, the Moment 4 Life hitmaker is just listing things she's not prepared to do: A hook, a third verse, refrain from swearing, "etc".

Roman In Moscow is available to purchase now and it sounds like this.

Roman In Moscow by Nicki Minaj

PS Gabrielle's blog is a good read, if you fancy finding out any more.

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A bold debut from Giovanna

Just a quickie this morning... As flagged up by Zane Lowe and Record Of The Day, here's the debut single from Giovanna. It's called Out In Bold, and it is what James Blake would sound like if he bothered to write a tune, instead of looping the mating call of a dolphin and whispering "I have deep thoughts" into a vocoder.

A classically-trained pianist, Giovanna is the 21-year-old sibling of Mumford & Sons' vocalist Winston Marshall. She cites Michael Jackson and Moby as influences on the electonic elements of her music; and Eva Cassidy and Laura Marling as her lyrical heroes. She also likes wearing foliage on her head.

Out In Bold is out today. Why not pick up a copy when you're in the iTunes store inexplicably buying Fairytale Of New York for the sixth year running.

Here is the video.

Giovanna - Out In Bold

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Friday, December 2, 2011

New from Lana Del Rey: Born To Die

The BBC's Sound Of 2012 list comes on Monday, but Lana Del Rey won't be on it.

Why? The 25-year-old disqualified herself by having a monster-sized chart hit with Video Games last month. Presumably, she won't be picked for the Brits Critics' Choice prize next Wednesday either, on account of her not being British. Bloody racists.

But who needs awards when you've got bee-sting lips and oodles of talent? No-one, that's who.

Only some people are questioning how much talent Lana Del Rey actually has. She recently played her first live gigs, only to be criticised for not having "much of a stage presence outside of few sultry looks". . More damagingly, people have been suggesting the well of inspiration ran dry after she wrote Video Games.

I tend to disagree. B-sides Diet Mtn Dew and Blue Jeans were terriffic, building on Lana's self-defined "Hollywood Sadcore" genre. As for new material, she's just premiered her new single - which also happens to be the title track to her debut album. Born To Die premiered on Lauren Laverne's 6 Music show this morning, and popped up on YouTube (all proper and official) a nanosecond later. What do you think?

Lana Del Rey - Born To Die

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

A little treat: Katy Perry vs A-ha

Purveyor of top quality remix work Pop Pants (aka @DaftBeatles) just messaged me a link to this his latest mash-up, which splices the Y chromosomes of A-ha's Take On Me to the X chromosomes of Katy Perry's ET and makes a weird Frankenstein DNA baby.

It's bright and poppy and pleasing to listen to, although the chorus definitely works better than the verses.

Worth three minutes of your life? Yeah, I reckon so.

Aha vs Katy Perry - Take On mE T

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