Is Tropical are the sort of band who claim to be "perverting pop music". As if pop music isn't perverse enough as it stands. Have you heard the new Wanted single? Urgh.
So, what are Is Tropical doing that's so revolutionary? It's certainly not their music, which sits at the crossroads of jangly indie dance (Two Door Cinema Club) and jangly dancey indie (Mystery Jets). No, its all about the image - which sees the three members of Is Tropical dress up as terrorists. Presumably, they think they're being dangerous and provocative - but they just come across as an incredibly fey Slipknot.
Their new single The Greeks has a video that takes this rhetoric and turns it into a sure-fire publicity campaign Daily Mail-baiting gorefest. In essence, the video is a hideously brutal remake of Bugsy Malone, where young children are portrayed as drug dealers and nerf guns shoot real bullets. You will be glad to hear that the violence is actually cartoonish, in that it was painted on by a crack team of animators "in post".
And, while it looks like it was a lot of fun to make, the band posted the following picture on their blog -- hinting they may actually be making a serious point about child soldiers.
Have a look at the video. It can be enjoyed on a visceral, Tarantino splatterfest level if that's "your bag". But why not take a look at the UN's website on Children and Armed Conflict when you're done? There are currently 300,000 children fighting in wars around the globe, which is a truly frightening thought.
Here's the sum total what I know about Michael Kiwanuka: He's from North London. He's 23. He's supported Adele on tour.
His new single, Tell Me A Tale, is allegedly a brand new recording, but I'd be willing to bet he found it down the back of Bill Withers' sofa, and is now trying to pass off as his own work. It's just too authentically rootsy to be a product of the 21st century.
But amazingly, somehow, Michael has managed to replicate the compressed, analogue recording techniques of Donny Hathaway and Bobby Womack: The vocals are too hot; the drums are mixed with casual disregard; the brass section is apparently punching its way out of a cardboard box.
There is also a flute.
In summary, this record is a marvel of modern soul. It deserves to be a hit, even though it won't be. It is unashamedly brilliant. It literally sounds dusty. (I have had some beer).
The sample starts at around 0'14" in Funkadelic's song. It may only last for two bars but, because they borrowed it, Derek and Alexis from Sleigh Bells have to give 100% of their publishing and royalties to George Clinton's psychedelic dreadlocks municipal childcare fund.
The music industry is a funny old beast.
Footnote: Rill Rill is out as a single on 13th June, but you can get it on iTunes now. Funkadelic's song is also available in download form, even though you'd assume the master tapes had been given to a crack dealer for "safekeeping" in 1976.
To be filed under "dubstep but with tunes", here is the new single from SBTRKT. Featuring the delectable vocal talents of Sweden's Little Dragon, it is called Wildfire and it throbs like a fresh bruise.
:: One track that passed the SBTRKT litmus test was Tinie Tempah's Pass Out. He speeded it up and put cowbells all over it. Astonishing.
:: On the masks thing, he notes: "In African societies, masks were used in religious and social events representing spirits of ancestors. They come to life, enhanced by music and atmosphere of the occasion."
Early in his career, he was a contrary and confrontational pop poseur. Legend has it he once jumped off stage and drop-kicked a journalist in the chest because he wasn't paying attention. Rumour aside, there's a rather shocking YouTube clip of him throwing a violent tantrum at a German festival in 2009, after his set was cut short.
But the Patrick Wolf of 2011 is a changed man. He's engaged to be married to long-term boyfriend William Pollock, and his new album, Lupercalia, is unashamedly, nakedly romantic. His new-found serenity isn't just down to love. At 27, he's no longer the petulant teenager who ran away from home to "become the male Christina Aguilera". And, he says, a recent course of psychotherapy helped him find balance in his personal and professional life.
Musically, this has resulted in a lush, orchestral pop album. Lupercalia is florid with harps and ukeleles and strings. Patrick even taught himself to play an obscure Armeian woodwind instrument called the duduk for good measure.
First single The City was a soaring and defiant declaration of love. The new record House is an operatic sweep of domestic contentment: "I love that here you live with me / Gives me the greatest peace I've ever known." What a heart-warming sentiment, eh readers?
Every year since 2001, a pair of altruistic music lovers have organised an event called "The Summer Burn". The idea is simple:
1) You register. 2) You make a mixtape. 3) You send it to two people, chosen at random from the database. 4) You receive two mixtapes in return. 5) Hey presto.
Here's the most important rule from the Summer Burn FAQ:
The Summer Burn is all about creating (and receiving) CDs full of music you like to listen to during the Summer. Try to imagine yourself sitting in a field full of daisies and buttercups, troffing your way through a picnic and playing the odd game of Petanque, while listening to your Summer Burn CD. If you think Whalesong sounds Summery, then by all means put it on the CD. But spare a thought for the two people who'll be listening to it in a few weeks.
I've been taking part for a looong time now... Invariably, I get one CD full of worthy tosh from a self-appointed musical historian. It always contains at least one Captain Beefheart track, an archival tape of Brazilian funk, and Dusty Springfield's You Don't Have To Say You Love (there must be some kind of hipster law regarding this song). The other CD contains fewer surprises, but generally gets lodged in my car stereo throughout July and August.
It's very careless of me, but it's been almost a month since I last wrote about Nerina Pallot's excellent new single Put Your Hands Up.
Luckily, someone from her record label has just emailed me to say, "Hey there, have you heard this remix of Nerina Pallot's excellent new single Put Your Hands Up?"
The answer is "yes," because it's been available on iTunes for roughly four weeks now. But Nerina has recently uploaded the remix on Soundcloud for everyone to enjoy free of charge. What a mensch.
For people of a certain age - IE me - this is going to bring back memories of Stock Aitken Waterman era Kylie Minogue, when every Thursday night meant sitting on the floor, watching TOTP with one finger poised over the VCR's record button.
PS: In case you missed it, Kylie got PWL/SAW producer Pete Hammond out of retirement this year to remix one of her Aphrodite tracks (confusingly also called Put Your Hands Up). Here is the YouTube link you require.
Notorious, the new single from The Saturdays is unexpectedly good. The video, in which they dress up as sexy secretaries and do slow-motion sex faces, is hardly the irrefutable statement on women's rights they appear to think it is, but it's no disaster, either.
Instead, it's the lyrics that let the side down. Allow me to illustrate:
:: "My resumé says I'm a bad girl"
Why would you put that on your resumé? This is bad career advice for young women. A more accurate lyric would be, "My resumé says I can type 120 words per minute and create spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel. I also make tea."
:: "I'm an outlaw"
Pffft. You are Mollie from The Saturdays. At worst, you've had a verbal warning for being drunk and disorderly.
:: "I'm a gangster on the dancefloor"
What exactly does a gangster do on the dancefloor, anyway? Deal drugs? Bribe police officers? Dance with a shifty, paranoid gait? This metaphor does not work.
:: "I'm Notorious"
Oh, The Saturdays. I'd accept "I'm frequently recognised in Tesco's fresh produce aisle"; "I'm comfortably hovering at around 240,000 followers on Twitter"; "I'm readily available for ITV2 panel shows"; or "I'm largely unremarkable but making a good career for myself through product endorsement deals".
To the untrained eye, it must look like Ed Sheeran just popped up out of nowhere. But he's been releasing EPs and touring almost constantly since he was 16 (playing more than 200 shows per year, he reckons). "I didn't go to the Brits school," he notes slyly in one of his songs.
Total immersion has paid its dividends. Ed's fans are like putty in his hands. Hormonal teenage putty. They know all of the words to all of the songs. They diligently scold a posse of shiny-suited city boys for their incessant yee-yaw at the bar. At the end of the show, one girl appears to faint into Ed's arms*.
So what's he done to provoke this adulation? Well, he's got the voice of a ginger angel, and the way he creates and manipulate backing tracks on the fly, using just a guitar and a loop pedal, is mesmerising.
But if I had to place a bet, I'd say his greatest appeal is his lyrics. They're semi-autobiographical tales of young love - a boy who gets dumped when his girlfriend goes to university; the couple who fight over whether or not to rescue an injured bird from the roadside. Yes, the couplets are clunky at times, but fans clasp their hands to their breasts as they sing along.
Ed's more recent songs display a maturing lyrical ability. Small Bump, about a teenage pregnancy, has a stinging twist in its final verse. The cheeky You Need Me But I Don't Need You has a nice line in self-deprecation, with lines like: "They say I'm up and coming like I'm in a fucking elevator" and, bafflingly, "[I'm] a young singer-writer like Gabriella Cilmi".
Actually, he's more in the mould of Jose Gonzales, or a dementedly upbeat Damien Rice. He fits nicely into the burgeoning scene of emotionally earnest singer-songwriters that's already given us Ben Howard, Jamie Woon, Benjamin Francis Poshsocks and... erm, Olly Murs.
The only issue is how he differentiates himself from those artists. But, whatever happens commercially, he has a certain future as a live performer.
The most electrifying moment of the night comes, ironically, when he unplugs himself from the PA system, grabs a stool and walks into the middle of the audience for a three-song encore. It was so good, I did something I swore I'd never do: I filmed it on my phone...
Hi there, we have just been "serviced" with the new single by Soundgirl - three singers called Olivia*, Nikki and Izzy who, it says here, were inspired by the likes of SWV, Salt-N-Pepa and other non-terrible girl bands.
Of course, no-one's ever going to declare "our main influences are B*witched and Hepburn", but at least we've established they're aiming for a 1990s urban pop-swing angle. Which places them nicely amidst that whole end-of-a-century throwback scene spearheaded by Yasmin and Katy B and Magnetic Man.
The new single, Don't Know Why, interpolates Carly Simon's Why, which means there's a writing credit for Chic's Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. It's unashamedly commercial, with a few neat lyrical flourishes from Miranda "Girls Aloud" Cooper: "You make my heart go boom, boom, boom / I'm making mixtapes in my room".
The video is shot in Barbados, so expect a breathtaking blue / green colour palette.
Now, this isn't the first song to lift the hook from Carly Simon's 1982 hit. Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest revamped it into a Daisy Age love song back in 1990. Aside from the phrase, "I've got crazy prophylactics," it's a stone-cold classic.
Could someone with better DJ skills than me please create a Soundgirl / Quest mash-up? There's not a Top Shop in the world that wouldn't play it.
1) The chorus of Beat Of My Drum sounds like M.I.A. covering Daphne & Celeste - i.e. unquestionably excellent.
2) Nicola has studiously avoided making a record for the sort of people who write glossy magazine articles about Pippa Middleton's miracle diet or different sorts of people who sit in radio station playlist meetings pretending to be 14 years younger than they actually are. Instead, she's followed her heart and made a bold and experimental pop album that's a huge personal statement. At times it's uncomfortably personal - and it's all the better for it.
3) She's got a sense of humour, too. "I hope that one day we'll stop striving for perfection / I hope that everybody loves my new direction." That is a good lyric.
4) A sitar! On a solo album by one of Girls Aloud! And it's not even a lazy Beatles' pastiche! Amazing.
5) The verses of Yo Yo echo of the bittersweet melody of Dusty Springfield's I Only Want To Be With You - a song that, tonally and lyrically, seems to be a touchstone for the entire project.
6) The explicit references to how she battled with her self-image during the early days of Girls Aloud: "I don't like nasty words / They hurt me like you'd never know / But don't think I won't put on a smiley face and do the show." (Or indeed, "do The Show", as in epic Girls Aloud tune, "The Show"). Bless her cotton socks.
7) Nicola is not afraid to make her voice sound ugly at the service of a song.
8) The lyrics reveal a girl who took public criticism to heart, and had that insecurity interpreted as stand-offishness. The music reveals a girl who no longer gives a flying fuck what you think, bitches.
9) First you'll hate it. Then you'll get it. Then you'll love it.
I was blabbing on about Alex Winston's Sister Wife a couple of weeks ago, since when the hook has lodged in my head like an axe. A great alt-pop song, with a novel subject matter: The bedroom-based jealousy of two wives in a polygamous marriage.
Hey there sister wife
Get the hell out - it's my night
You don't know the way to his heart
Like I do
The video has just come out and it's curates egg, to say the least. Key scenes include slices of bread flying out of a toilet, and a cat spewing blood into Alex's face.
Last night, Lady Gaga released the cheese-a-licious Edge Of Glory, the latest teaser track from her third LP, Born This Way. With one hand on the irony engine, she steers a course through the choppy waters of 1980s Hi-NRG disco, arriving triumphantly at an extended, two-minute saxophone solo.
Sadly, the saxophone is a much-maligned instrument. Once a hallmark of sophisticated urban cool, it's image was sullied by schmaltzy guffmeisters like Kenny G and Curtis Stigers.
Nonetheless, recorded music gives us a few truly great sax scenes (sorry) to savour. Here are five of them. After sampling them, you too will live in the hope that Lady Gaga has resurrected the instrument forever.
1) Rolling Stones - Brown Sugar
Bobby Keys is responsible for this blistering solo on record. I've no idea whether it's actually him playing with the Stones on this vinage Top Of The Pops clip, because the director decided to focus on Mick Jagger mincing around in a pink suit.
A pink suit.
2) INXS - Never Tear Us Apart
They had shaggy hair. They wore women's jeans. They were the kings of cheddar.
They were INXS, and Never Tear Us Apart was the big ballad from their career-defining LP, Kick. The sax solo comes from the lavishly-named Kirk Pengilly. Wikipedia calls it "cathartic".
3) Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run
FACT: The E Street Band's Clarence Clemens has been playing a sax solo continuously since 1983. His cheeks are held together by Band Aids and string. He eats through a special tube in his abdomen, and his lips have formed an unbreakable fleshy seal around the reed of his instrument.
Born To Run features one of his earlier, more compact, 16-bar solos. The brevity does nothing to lessen it's joyous, freewheeling ebullience. If you're impressed by it, you should also search YouTube for live versions of Springsteen's Jungleland. Clemens' solo changes every night, but it's always a masterpiece.
4) Guru Josh - Infinity
4) James Brown - Super Bad
Totally insane. Robert McCollough's solo is not so much music as an uncontrolled release of energy. Brown famously intones "Blow me some trane, brother" as the track fades. I think McCullough has actually blown his lungs inside out.
5) George Michael - Careless Whisper
Steve Gregory - a former musician with Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones - had his work cut out with this one: It starts with the very top note on an alto sax, so you need a hell of a lot of puff to get it right. Gregory nailed it, and the iconic opening of George Michael's first solo single overtook Baker Street as the sax riff of choice.
It is improved one hundred-fold when it's played repeatedly in a mall by a shirtless man with a mullet.
What happens when you cross boffins with pop music? If you're lucky, you get Goldfrapp: Geeks with big hearts and a box of sonic magic tricks. For the less fortunate, it's Hot Chip: Weedy mathematicians with the charisma of a closed door.
New York trio Battles fall somewhere in between. You may not have heard of them, but their song Atlas has cropped up in all sorts of unlikely places - including this trailer for PS3 metagame, Little Big Planet.
Atlas was from Battles' 2007 debut album, Mirrored. Since then, they've had a bit of a personnel crisis - losing vocalist Tyondai Braxton after what appears to have been a rather tense year in the recording studio. Nonetheless, the remaining members perservered and have come up with a second album, Gloss Drop, which gleefully puts the "mental" in "experimental".
The first single is Ice Cream, a psychedelic organ groove featuring Chile's Matias Aguayo on vocals. It's exactly the sort of thing that might have cropped up as a video interlude in a 1970s episode of Sesame Street... if Sesame Street had given up teaching the alphabet in favour of made-up Spanglish nonsense words.
Admittedly, Ice Cream isn't the best song you'll hear this week - but it will sit quite happily alongside The Go! Team or The Avalanches in a Spotify playlist. The video (mildly NSFW) features a dog licking a banana and some Monks in a gymnasium.
When the sun comes out, it's generally time for Stevie Wonder's Innervisions or Marvin Gaye's What's Going On. Sometimes, though, it's nice to mix up the classics with something fresh. In the past, that's included Warren G & Nate Dog's Regulate, Alicia Keys' Songs In A Minor and every album Jill Scott has ever recorded.
So, it's appropriate and timely that - after an extended break to appear in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - she's back with some new material, just as the picnics'n'sprinklers season begins. The first release is the head-bobbing, soul-touching So In Love.
Jill's forte has always been the blissed-out soul ballad, and this is no exception. Happy lyrics are notoriously difficult to write without sounding trite and clichéd. For Jill, though, they come naturally. It's all about the tiny details no-one but a starry-eyed lover would notice. "I see you cross the road, talking to some men. I love your mannerisms, babe, the way you handle them."
Stick this on your headphones, sip some lemonade, and strut down the street with a mile-wide smile.
Long answer: She's working with Diplo (amazing) Dragonette (AMAZING) Metronomy (generally above average) and Dimitri Tikovoi (the jury's out).
In other words, Nicola is dragging the Girls Aloud sound into a back alley, roughing up its hair, scratching its back and planting lipstick on its collar. Even the b-sides have immense titles like Disco, Blisters And A Comedown. Key words for reviews could include: unique, unexpected, mature, leftfield and - for old time's sake - ginger.
The idea that Nicola's music will be more... er, "experimental" than her bandmates' solo efforts is supported by the promo campaign, which has so far involved posting random pictures of Nicola's feet all over Twitter.
"The album has a very British sound," says Nicola in a press release. "The stories I tell are things that have happened to me and life in general. Some are happy, some songs are a little cheeky and one song is sad."
One song is sad: I love that.
Lyrically, Popjustice has been spilling the beans on the project. Lots of the songs are about growing up in the spotlight. Nicola was the ingénue of Girls Aloud - an innocent, small town girl subjected to the full and sudden blast of Britain's media klaxons. And, with her alabaster skin and teenage demeanour, she initially came in for a lot of criticism.
"I was too young for so many things," goes one of the lyrics, "yet you thought I'd cope with being told I'm ugly over and over. I'd read it, believe it, said no to the shrink. I can fix it, I think..."
(This might be the sad one).
On a happier note, fans of Nicola saying "frankly, I don't even care" on No Good Advice will be pleased to hear the album contains further instances of 'rapping'.
So far, the only music you can actually listen to comes in the form of a teaser video. Posted on YouTube last night, it shows Nicola in a recording studio, while a minimalist drum loop clatters along. Supposedly from her debut single, Beat Of My Drum, the instrumental snippet also features a couple of sampled voices and detuned synth drones.
It's all very Diplo... but the video keeps returning to footage a shiny grand piano. So there's still time for this to turn into a Celine Dion number.
As exciting as this may be for pop fans, there's no telling what the public is going to make of it all.
Nadine Coyle proved that residing affection for Girls Aloud is no guarantee of success. And the fluctuating fortunes of Ellie, Marina and Little Boots illustrate the difficulty of sustaining a synth-based solo career in the era of "Jason Derulo" and "LMFAO" (or, as I like to call them, FFS). Even Cheryl Cole's The Flood stalled at number 18 earlier this year...
So, in summary: Good luck, Nicola. You look like you're doing something interesting and, even if this all goes a bit Siobhan Donaghy, we'll still love you.
Lady Gaga has released the self-directed video for Judas, the second single from her Born This Way album, and it's not the indulgent mess you might have expected.
Unlike the confused, dreary videos for Alejandro and Born This Way, there's a satisfying focus on the dancing and much, much less of the preachy gender politics. Yes, there's the expected, sleazily misappropriated Christian iconography (baptism, a crown of thorns, washing feet, a lipstick gun (that last one's from Corinthians I)) but nothing that I can get too worked up about. Mostly because it's all been done before. And better. Let's face it, if Gaga really wanted to attack organised religion, she'd be better off railing against the sexual abuse of children and the Vatican's complicity in covering it up. But by all means do the 'kissing Jesus' thing again. It worked for Madonna.
In the credits column: The video edit of the single is an improvement on the actual single. And the whole "Jesus and his disciples are Hell's Angels" theme gives me the excuse to say...
Here's Lady Gaga and Christ on a bike. (*lukewarm applause*)
Solange is notable for two things. First, she has a name that almost rhymes with "orange". Second, she's got remarkably weird taste in music for someone raised in the same household as Beyoncé.
A couple of years ago, she turned in an amazing cover of Dirty Projector's deliberately obtuse Stillness Is The Move. Now, she's written a melody over the top of Left Side Drive, by minimalist Scottish experimentalists Boards Of Canada. Wistful and forlorn, it is a thing of exquisite beauty.
She introduced the song on Twitter, saying: "Wrote this over the amazing, Boards of Canada 'Left side drive' a couple of years ago. It’s completely unofficial, and was just inspired by the song which i have had a deep love affair with for years. I am a huge Boards of Canada fan, and got the chance to work with them on Sol-Angel on 'This Bird'. Still feel honored to this day." – Solange
You can read this two ways: On one hand, it's deliberately sabotaging Beyoncé - whose attempt to layer a melody over Major Lazer's Pon De Replay has left fans dumbstruck (although I personally think it's superb). On the other, Solange is curating her sister's tastes in alternative music... with results like Run The World (Girls).
Either way, the result is this song - which I am positive you'll love.