Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tinie Tempah joins Rita Ora for new single

"It's better than it would have been if it was shit".

How's that for a quote? The speaker is Rita Ora, Albania's hottest export since pickled cabbage, and she's promoting her forthcoming album - which has been three years in the making. "My record label has been very patient," she notes, accurately.

That label is Roc Nation, which is a coincidence, because Rita's debut single R.I.P. sounds exactly like a Rihanna song. Not that this is a bad thing if you're in the business of Selling Shedloads Of Records. And Rita, as it turns out, is the branch manager of a major Selling Shedloads Of Records depot.

She's just been number one on the incredible DJ Fresh track Hot Right Now, and garnered major attention last week when she brought label boss Jay-Z along to the US radio premiere of her new track Party And Bulls**t.

"Rita is amazing," noted Jay-Z, who had just attended a seminar in stating the obvious.

R.I.P. is out in the UK on 6th May and it pulls off a couple of great pop moves, especially Rita's image-defining lyrics ("I do it big, I shut it down") and the scorching hot electric guitar lines. It doesn't hurt that the track brings together a triumverate of pop brilliance.

1) It's written by Drake, current crown prince of the R&B potboiler.

2) Production work is handled by Chase & Status, who've "accidentally" left in a few bars of their remix of Nneka's Heartbeat.

3) There's a lengthy cameo from Tinie Tempah, who's on top puntastic form: "Sexy senorita, I feel your aura."

Pop rating: Seven pops.

PS: Just stumbled across this radio interview with Rita, which includes an acoustic performance of Hot Right Now. It is very good indeed.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Plan B's back and he's bloody miffed, ok?

The new single from Plan B premiered last night and, if you like your hip-hop fierce and sweary, this one's for you.

Ill Manors is the title track for Ben Drew's first feature film, which is due out in May. As he told RWD magazine recently, "I actually want this film to be brilliant," which certainly sets him apart from Spielberg and Scorsese and all those other directors who deliberately set out to make non-brilliant movies. Set in London's Forest Hill, the movies features six interlinking stories, each of which is soundtracked by an individual song. Inspired by the works of Shane Meadows and Quentin Tarantino, it is, according to The Sun, "harrowing".

The single is full of shouty lyrics about the government ignoring deprived areas of London while spending millions on the Olympic village just around the corner. "There’s no such thing as broken Britain," rants Plan B, "We’re just bloody broke in Britain." OH, DO YOU SEE WHAT HE DID THERE?

To be honest, I wasn't looking forward to the return of the hip-hop Plan B, having quite enjoyed his previous incarnation as the rapping Lenny Kravitz of London Town. It doesn't seem likely he's going to break out the soul tonsils on this soundtrack album - but the single's a genuinely brilliant (and timely) protest song. It'll be interesting to see what Radio One do with it... Zane Lowe had the first play last night, but is this too aggressive for daytime radio?

I hope not.

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Michael Kiwanuka continues run of very good songs with a new song that's very good

This popped up on Soundcloud yesterday - the b-side to Michael Kiwanuka's new single, I'm Getting Ready. It's a collaboration with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, and it is called Lasan. Almost a textbook definition of "a little bit country", it's (yet another) showcase for the London soul singer's incredibly resonant and tender vocals.

If this wasn't good enough to make it on to his debut album, how awesome and incredible must that album be? Here is a helpful guide:

(That Madonna single is really quite wonderfully terrible, by the way. I shan't post it for the sake of your ears - but here's the link. Brace yourself.)

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God, I pity the violins in glass coffins

Bloody hell, it's good to have Regina Spektor back. For all the amazing female music we've been spoiled with in recent years, there's no-one quite like the Russian-American alt pop queen for sheer knock-you-backwards brilliance. If you haven't stumbled across her already, check out Us or Samson on YouTube. It's like Tori Amos without the spooky mysticism and psychological hang-ups. Sweet, strange, funny and full of melody.

Never one for straightforward love songs, Regina's comeback single All The Rowboats is a diatribe against museums. No, really. Regina is quite simply furious that our most treasured art - from paintings to Stradivarius' violins - are kept behind glass in sterile buildings with vaulted ceilings, out of sight and eternally lonely. Here's the refrain:

"First there's lights out, then there's lock up.
Masterpieces serving maximum sentences.
It's their own fault for being timeless -
Theres a price to pay, and a consequence.
All the galleries and museums,
(Here's your ticket, welcome to the tombs')
They're just public mausoleums.
The living dead fill every room."

I've already listened to this eight times this morning. Now it's your turn. Incredible.

Regina Spektor - All The Rowboats

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Monday, February 27, 2012

The Oscars: A bit of a blur

There's nothing like the annual Oscars all-nighter to make your head spin. There's tons of amazing coverage over on the BBC, which I barely remember being part of, but it was great fun being in the thick of it at four in the morning.

You'll know all the headlines by now, but I just wanted to record for posterity Bret "Flight Of The Conchords" McKenzie, who gave the best red carpet photo of all time:

Bret also deserves congratulations for winning the Oscar for best original song, having written this masterpiece (don't watch it if you haven't seen the film - it's full of spoilers).

Jason Segel, Walter - Man Or Muppet

Oh, and further "mad props" to the photoshop genius who touched up this red carpet image of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

I'm going to bed now. G'night.

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What's going on with the Arctic Monkeys?

Remember when the Arctic Monkeys arrived on the radio back in 2005? Their songs were incredible, incendiary... but they were reluctant and awkward, blinking in the limelight and barely able to make eye contact with anyone who tried to speak to them.

Granted, they were only teenagers. And Alex Turner showed the occasional flash of the wit he displayed in his dry, urbane lyrics. Simon Amstell, typically, got some of the best reactions out of him by appealing to their self-deprecating sense of humour.

But somewhere along the way, they grew into their roll as Britain's best rock band. If you caught them on tour last year, you couldn't help but notice how at ease with himself Alex Turner seemed on stage. One time, he even did The Macarena.

Amazing, right?

But this is all just a very long-winded and self-indulgent way of saying the band put out a new single this morning. It seems to have taken everyone by surprise. RU Mine isn't from their current album, Suck It And See, and it doesn't appear to be the launch of a new one.

I love it when a band is so hyped up about a new song they rush-release it so everyone share can the excitement. And this is definitely exciting - stuffed silly with towering riffs, and showcasing some of the most ridiculously overblown drum kit showboating of all time.

Nice video too.

Arctic Monkeys - RU Mine

Out to buy now from your local MP3 emporium.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

A couple of MP3s for Friday afternoon

AKA Here are some songs that don't warrant a separate blog post but which might pique your interest.

1) Rita Ora - Party and Bullshit>

This will be the first "proper" single from the Kosovo-born singer who's currently at number one on DJ Fresh's Hot Right Now. Half Ke$ha, half Rihanna, this is nowhere near as bad as the title suggests, so long as you don't concentrate on the lyrics. Which is admittedly difficult when someone has transcribed them all on this YouTube clip. "I get that drunk sex feeling when I'm with you". Really? REALLY? [download link]

2) Beyoncé - End Of Time (Monsieur Adi remix)

Lots of people called Beyoncé's latest album a flop, but it was the tenth best-selling record of 2011, which isn't too bad. Still, End Of Time is probably the worst track on the collection, with little or no tune to speak of. This remix, however, turns the rave siren up to 11 and sets fire to the curtains. [Streaming link]

3) Riz MC ft Aruba and Plan B - All Of You

This lurid, emotionless sex fantasy is not something you should play at your gran's birthday - but it packs a punch as powerful as anything Tricky pulled off in his Maxinquaye heyday. The video stars Jodie Whittaker from Venus, Attack The Block and... er, St Trinian's 2: The Legend Of Fritton's Gold. [Download link]

4) Sam Sparro - Happiness

The first single from Sam Sparro's sophomore album is sad proof that he's never going to top the superlative Black & Gold, but if you like retro 90s handbag house, you could do worse than this. [iTunes link - Australia only for the moment]

5) Quantic and Alice Russell - Look Around The Corner

According to the press release they are two of the UK's "leading lights of the international funk, soul and alternative dance music scene", collaborating for the first time. In reality, this means a pleasing, latin-tinged swoonballad that recalls Zero 7 at their best. This one-camera live take showcases the band's musical chops but sadly drowns out the cowbell. We always want more cowbell. [iTunes link]

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

James Brown teaches you how to dance

From the "Awesome Things Someone Posted on Twitter" department, comes this clip of James Brown teaching you how to dance (via @kimhillyard)

James Brown dancing

It gets better... Someone has re-edited the footage to a track by reggae artist Yabby You.


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A very good song by Yasmin and Diplo

For some reason everyone has decided that the charts only have room for one Scottish singer doing moody 90s retro dance pop, and that person is Emeli Sandé. Which is a bit of a pisser for Yasmin, who is equally brilliant and less likely to record a mawkish rawk ballad with Coldplay.

We would like the world to reconsider their position because Yasmin is a very good pop star. She makes songs that sound like the first incarnation of the Sugababes on Tempazepam (which, let's face it, they probably are). It has also come to our attention that she is quite attractive, and says amusing things on Twitter:

What's not to love?

Here is Takes 1 2 Know 1 an excellent song with an appalling title that Yasmin posted on her Soundcloud page the other day. It's a co-write with Diplo who, as we all know, torpedoed the campaign for Beyoncé and Nicola Roberts's albums last year. With that in mind, let's hope this becomes an album track.

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Gorillaz: Damon Albarn is literally making this stuff up

The new Gorillaz single hit the airwaves last night - a collaboration between Damon Albarn, James Murphy and André 3000. Do Your Thang splutters into life with a meandering organ pattern, the sort of thing Albarn could knock off in his sleep. Principally because it sounds like someone rolling over top of a keyboard in the middle of the night.

Things really kick off with André 3000's stream-of-consciousness rap, one of the most exciting things you'll hear this side of lunchtime, and potentially the first time the word onomatopoeia has been used so prominently in a pop song.

"André just wouldn't stop," Albarn told Zane Lowe last night. "It literally just took off and we just ran with it. He's fantastic."

Apparently, the Outkast rapper then sent Damon off to try a bit of freestyling of his own. "My bit at the beginning was the last thing that came on," he said. "It just was whatever came out of my head. One take, just done." Damon's bit isn't quite as thrilling as André's but you have to give him credit. If I'd been challenged to record a verse under those circumstances it would have ended up going:

"I'm doing a rap.
On a song.
Something something.

Rap. Rap. Rap. Rap.
(Word to your mother.)"

In summary: Do Your Thang is better than Blur's under-rehearsed Brits performance by approximately one gazillion percent.

Gorillaz - Do Your Thang (Radio Edit)

The song is available as a free download on the Converse website right now.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What we did at the Brits (we took badly framed photographs of pop stars on our phones)

Going to the Brits as a journalist is simultaneously brilliant and terrible. You get to see lots of famous people up close (they are all tiny) and you get to ask lots of famous people questions ("Hello, how did you celebrate being number one last week?"; "My single didn't go to number one"; "Oh"). But you don't get to see the actual ceremony, and there is no alcohol in the "winners room" - which, by the way, is a makeshift tent in the freezing cold arse end of the O2.

Brilliantly, trained journalists can't be trusted to ask questions to anyone who has won a prize, so all the winners do a generic 90-second interview with Nihal off of Radio One. Nihal is a very nice man with incredibly neat hair, but he does tend to ask stupid things like "which member of the audience would you most like to snog?", which would be hilarious if you weren't trying to get clips for Huw Edwards on the Ten O'Clock News.

Minor grumbles aside, this year's bash turned out pretty well. The right people won the right awards and the whole Adele "incident" basically made a predictable event into a slightly more interesting one. Although if anyone genuinely thinks Adele giving the finger to a bunch of record company executives is a cause for complaint, wait til they find out what's been happening in Syria (Chris Martin told me to say that).

The main things I learned last night are that (a) if you put a picture of One Direction on the BBC's twitter account, people get very animated about it and (b) I am not very good at taking pictures on the red carpet anyway.

Here are some of those pictures, followed by some official Brits videos. I'm not pretending to be in the mood for anything more high maintenance than that.

Ed Sheeran checks to see if his fingernails are clean, shortly before appearing on the NEWS with LIZO MZIMBA

Jessie J turned up in her nightie and talked about weighing melons or something

You can't tell in this picture, but Tinie Tempah had glitter in his beard. I think he may have eaten one of Little Mix by mistake.

Kylie was very concerned about Adele. She said she was worried she'd be too overwhelmed to take the whole night in, then looked down the barrel of the camera and said "Adele, get your mum and dad to press record because you might not remember this night happened. And then you can look back at it in six months time." Ironically, Adele's mum missed the message because she was watching Neighbours.

This picture may have temporarily broken Twitter. Sorry about that.

Coldplay. I took this picture to stop myself doing something I'd regret later.

Adele can basically have my babies (don't worry, they're only jelly babies)

Adele - Rolling In The Deep

Rihanna - We Found Love (in a box)

Bruno Mars - Just The Way You Are

If you've stuck around this long, you might want to head over to the BBC News site and read all the coverage we put together from the ceremony...
:: Adele wins, extends finger
:: Quotes and reaction to Adele's big night
::, Tinie Tempah, Dizzee Rascal, Noel Gallagher & Little Mix on their new albums

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Santigold: Disparate Youth

Rushing out the door to the Brit Awards this morning, but this new Santigold single has caught my ear. A lilting reggae groove punctuated by furious blasts of electric guitar, Disparate Youth would appear to be one of the tracks she's recorded with Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Some people have suggested the song's a reaction to the Occupy movement - and the lyrics could certainly be interpreted that way: "Let them say we can't do better. They are the rules that we can break. They want to sit and watch you wither. The legacy's too hard to take". But the sight of fighter jets and exploiding oil plants in the animated video suggest a broader world view. Let's just call it a protest anthem.

Santigold - Disparate Youth

The single's out now in the US. But in the UK we've got to sit on our hands until 8th April. Don't go illegally downloading it, ok?

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Lissie is back!

New material from Rock Island folk singer (and former employee of Madonna) Lissie is always a cause for celebration at Discopop Towers, even when it's just a handful of cover versions.

I haven't heard the full Covered Up With Flowers EP yet but Lissie is amazing and all of her song choices are amazing, so what could possibly go wrong? (*avoids eye contact with Duran Duran's Thank You album*).

Given that Lissie has been called the Stevie Nicks of her generation, it makes sense that she leads off the project with a doomy, echo-drenched version of Fleetwood Mac's Go Your Own Way. The EP also includes the following tracks:

Pursuit of Happiness - Kid Cudi
Bad Romance - Lady Gaga
Games People Play - Joe South
Nothing Else Matters - by Metallica
Ship Song - by Nick Cave

It's available now from all good music retailers. You should own a copy. Yes, you should.

Lissie - Go Your Own Way

Intriguing Dolly Rockers "leak"

Apparently, the Dolly Rockers are still a thing, despite being dropped by EMI about two years ago. You might remember them from such irritating songs as Je Suis Un Dolly and Gold Digger - which are what Ke$ha would sound like if Ke$ha were genuinely drunk all the time.

Anyway, it turns out they've stuck together... largely. Out went singer Brooke Challinor (blonde, gobby) and in came Daniele Owen (brunette, gobby). Then they set off for the US where they recorded with "notoriously choosy" uber-producer Red One.

A demo of one of those new songs, Get You Alone, has just leaked on YouTube (although given the frequency with which the band have been promoting the leak on Twitter, you begin to wonder exactly who put it up there in the first place). Gone is the "chav in a karaoke booth" affectation of the band's previous singles. In its place, a more formulaic but more listenable strand of bubbling ravepop.

In the realms of Red One co-writes, this is more Scherzinger than Gaga. But given that his demos tend to come alive in the mixing stage, this has the potential to be a genuine hit.

Dolly Rockers - Get You Alone

More info, should you require it, on the Dolly Rockers blog.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Michael Kiwanuka is getting ready

Michael Kiwanuka is gearing up for the release of his debut album, Home Again, next month with the re-release of the gently spiritual ballad I'm Getting Ready. Video-wise, it's all gone a bit EastEnders, but just close your eyes and enjoy the song - which has so many roots it could be a field of potatoes.

Michael Kiwanuka - I'm Getting Ready

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

When sample clearance goes wrong

It's relatively common knowledge that, back in 1992, Gabrielle won a recording contract on the strength of a white label 12" that featured a nascent version of her single Dreams. But, although Go Discs wanted to release the song commercially, they had a problem: Tracy Chapman wouldn't allow them to use the song's central sample, of the guitar riff from her single Fast Car.

Gabrielle - Dreams (Original version)

The version of Dreams that eventually hit number one in 1993 had a much more generic guitar line and lacked the crunchy hip-hop beats of the original - which goes to show the difference getting the right sample can make to a hit single.

Its a problem that appears to have reared its head again on the new single by hotly-tipped British singer Jessie Ware (Where? Over here!)

If you bought SBTRKT's album last year, your ears will be familiar with her voice... But take a listen to her excellently broody new record Running and see if you can spot the inspiration for its drum loop.

Jessie Ware - Running

Did you recognise it? To be fair, you're not likely to unless your a massive Prince trainspotter. But the drum programmer is desperately trying to emulate the Purple maestro's sparse, moody mastery of the Linn LM-1 drum machine on the Sign O' The Times album track The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker. Imagine how much more atmospheric Jessie's record would be if it sounded like this:

Now, there must be other songs that lost a key sample on the journey from demo tape to digital download - but, apart from Black Box's Ride On Time, I can't think of them right now... Can you help?

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Look at the size of that bass clarinet

Jack White posted the video for his debut solo single, Love Interruption, last night. We are fans of Jack White, but he really needs to sort his hair out because he's starting to look like Michael Jackson and not in a good way.

Anyway, the video is a straightforward performance affair, featuring co-vocalist Ruby Amanfu and a clarinet of unfeasibly large proportions.

Jack White - Love Interruption

Monday, February 13, 2012

Best bits from the Grammys

It wasn't a perfect night at the Grammys... Aside from the tragic events of Saturday justifiably casting a shadow over the ceremony, almost everyone chose to play the underwhelming fourth single from their latest album. Still, there were a couple of performances worth watching over your Monday morning teabreak and, if the internet police haven't taken them down, these are they.

Adele - Rolling In The Deep

Aside from the a capella intro that said "hello bitches, my voice is all better now", Adele seemed to be exercising more control over those powerhouse vocals. Sounds like she's had some coaching... but that doesn't stop the tingles running up and down your spine for a full four minutes. It's nice to have you back, missus.

Rihanna - We Found Love

"Make some noise for Whitney," screams Rihanna, whose "we found love in a hopeless place" lyric couldn't have been more appropriate given the circumstances.
WARNING: This video also contains Coldplay.

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band - We Take Care Of Our Own

This was the show opener - a huge, string-assisted behemoth. I haven't delved into the lyrics but I'm guessing the jingoistic overtones are delivered with a heavy dose of sarcasm, á la Born In The USA. You can't beat a bit of Bruce, you know.

Bruno Mars - Runaway

This is one of those "why didn't he do Grenade?" moments. The song is nothing to write home about, but Bruno's tribute to the hyperactive funk workouts of James Brown and The JBs is hugely exciting.

Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt - Etta James Tribute

Surprisingly moving, this low-key stroll through the blues was my personal highlight from the night's proceedings.

Taylor Swift - Mean

Taylor Swift is rocking the banjo. You've gotta love a girl who rocks the banjo.

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A remarkable voice

A performance like this is the only eulogy Whitney Houston needs.

Whitney Houston - How Will I Know (a capella)

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Bret McKenzie talks Muppets, Hobbits and Flight Of The Conchords

I was lucky enough to interview Bret McKenzie from Flight Of The Conchords earlier this week. He was just on his way to tape the Conan O'Brien show, where he was promoting the new Muppets film, on which he was musical director. One of his songs, the Harry Nilsson-inspired Man Or Muppet, is even up for an Oscar later this month (and it had better win, or else...)

The main interview went up on the BBC News pages today, but here's the extended cut.

Hello Bret. How are you?
Hello mate. I’m great. How’s it going?

Great thanks... But I’m not the one up for an Oscar! How does that feel?
I’m really proud of it.

And there’s only one other nominee...
I know! The chances of winning could not be any better, unless they had one nominee. But I guess that would make the awards ceremony very predictable.

The weird thing is that the other song is from Rio, which Jemaine [Clement, co-star of Flight Of The Conchords] stars in.
It’s quite funny isn’t it? Luckily, he’s not nominated for the song he did in that movie. It would have been pretty hilarious if it was just the two of us, sitting at the Oscars, competing against each other. There’d have been fisticuffs.

So, what are the particular qualities that makes a song Muppety?
They’ve gotta be slightly... They’ve got to have a looseness. Jim Henson said “if the music’s too good, it’s not right” and so I took that to heart, and kept the songs slightly shambolic.

How do you achieve that with an orchestra, who are used to getting everything note perfect?
Ah, well the orchestra are perfect. They don’t really make mistakes, those guys. Luckily, the Muppets themselves have very imperfect voices – so the vocals always have a quality of infallibility.

Piggy can’t sing very high or very low, otherwise she loses the sound of Miss Piggy. It’s kind of like Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips. You know how when he hits the high notes he doesn’t quite make them? That’s what makes it sound so emotional and so great.
Bret McKenzie and Kermit The Frog - Life's A Happy Song

Jason Segel doesn’t have those problems – he puts in an incredible performance in Man or Muppet.
He did a pretty good job of the high note, didn't he? I was really thrilled when he came into the studio and knocked that one out. He’s a really good singer. I had no idea – I mean, he sings in Forgetting Sarah Marshall but I didn’t know what to expect. He’s a triple threat – he can sing, he can act and he can sort of dance.

Would you say you’re a quadruple threat, because you can do all those things AND write the songs?
Yup, that’s where I’ve got him. I’ve got him cornered.

The Footloose dance in the first series of Flight Of The Conchords is one of my favourite scenes.
I’m pretty big on dancing. My mum was a ballet teacher. I think she wanted a daughter but she had three sons, so she made us all do ballet.

It's a great skill to have. It gives you good balance.
[Laughs] I’ve got really good balance. I don’t know if you’d noticed that - but often in a room when some people are falling over, I’m still standing.

You joke, but you’re living on the San Andreas fault now. It could come in handy.
Ha! I guess you’re right.

Anyway, back to The Muppets. When you watched the original show as a child, was there a member of Dr Teeth’s band you wanted to be?
I started off as a drummer so I was always a big fan of Animal. He’s just so wild.

So were you disappointed when Dave Grohl got the cameo?
I didn’t get the chance! I should have done a cameo, but it didn’t really work out. I was around for pre-production and post-production. I wasn’t really there for most of the filming.

What state was the film in when you joined? Were the songs written to a pre-existing script?
That’s right.

Does that make it more difficult for you as a composer?
Sometimes the biggest challenge was convincing Disney because they weren’t that familiar with Conchords. They weren’t sure what sort of movie they were going to make at first, whether it was going to be more of a ‘Hannah Montana meets the Muppets’. But James Bobin and Jason and I were all very committed to making it a very traditional Muppet movie.

I told someone you’d written the lyrics and she said, “is it full of dirty jokes?”
That was one of the restrictions – there could be no dirty gags. I was shut down on a “motherfrogger” joke that I had in there early on. And also I had one gag where a Muppet was reminiscing, “I remember when I was a piece of felt” and that got taken out, because the Muppets are real.

So they never break the illusion?
Yeah, they maintain the integrity of the world. They were pretty much “method Muppets” in the studio. They would refuse to sing lines I had written because it didn’t match the integrity of the character.

How did that feel as the writer?
It was a bit of a stress. There were maybe half-a-dozen versions of each song. Lots of to-ing and fro-ing and lots of edits. And then edits in the picture would need the songs to be re-worked. Often the songs were cut shorter to keep the film moving. That was frustrating for us – you spend so much time in the studio and then the song ends up only 60 seconds long. But James knows what he’s doing and the film has a really good pace.

Like the Chris Cooper rap. That ended up being a very short mini song, but in a way that was much funnier than a long version.

Is it true you taught him to rap over Skype?
You read that? That was a total highlight – teaching an Academy Award-winning dramatic actor how to rap on Skype. He’s a very serious man, and it was an awesomely awkward rap session. The Rhymenocerous was teaching Chris Cooper how to rap. But he really got into it. Later, on the set, he was apparently reading a book on how to rap. I don't know who wrote that. Did Snoop write that? Or maybe Jay-Z's written a book: 'The Dummy's Guide To Rapping?' It's hilarious

So what was your first lesson in rapping?
I was exploring attitude, because he’s a bad guy in the movie. So I wanted to see how nasty he could sound, how scary he could be.

I have to ask: Are you a man or are you a muppet?
I’m a muppet. It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves.

Where did the idea for that song come from?
The line “man or Muppet” was in the script because they knew they wanted a song along those lines. So that was the title, and I was free to do anything I wanted with that. It’s that thing of writing songs for musicals, which I guess I’m working on more, is that it has to relate to the story. That’s a song where the story and the music lock in.

That always felt like the big difference between the two series of Conchords. In the first one, the script revolved around songs you’d already written – but in the second one, the songs were more in service to the plot.
Yes. Which one did you prefer?

I liked them both in different ways. I have both albums and I probably listen to the first one more... But I enjoyed watching the second series more as a comedy. It felt more complete.
Yeah, yeah. In the first series, the songs were written for comedy clubs so they were much funnier, they’re full of jokes. Whereas the second series, the jokes were often more visual or story-based, so they’re not such a good comedy club listen. We found that, touring the second season songs, they’re not so full of laughs. The first season, we played those for years, they’re built to keep a room laughing.

And presumably the songs for the second series were written under much bigger time constraints.
Yeah, we were writing the weekend before we filmed.

How do you feel about the difference between them now?
I like them all and they’re definitely different. The second ones are less satisfying to play live and I think that’s because they didn’t get road tested. If we’d had a bit more time, we probably could have filled them out.
Flight Of The Conchords - Sugar Lumps

So, has the success of The Muppets got the ball rolling for a Flight Of The Conchords movie?
What’s good is now we’ve all had more experience in doing films, so we’re in a better place to do a Conchords film.

And have you made any inroads?
It’s all very conceptual, so no we haven’t made any definite plans. But it’s something we all want to do, so it’s just a matter of time. Jemaine’s been working on Men In Black, so it’s been a kind of funny year. We’ve been living in different cities. He’s been working with aliens, and I’ve been working with frogs and pigs.

Is it strange to spend time apart? You pretty much worked on the TV series seven days a week for a couple of years.
Yes, we were basically living together. So we’re taking a well-earned break. When we started it was good because we would spend half a year doing Conchords then do other projects. We found it was quite productive and creatively inspirational, because you’d spend time apart and then you’d come together and you’d have different experiences. What happened on Conchords is we were spending so much time together that we knew all of each other’s stories, and we were meeting all the same people so we were running out of material. Very much like an old married couple, bored of each other’s stories.

The Muppets - Official Trailer

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The Ting Tings and the joys of hubris

"We would rather write songs that nobody's going to hear than write dance tracks that would fit on the radio after David Guetta", said Ting Tings singer Katie White in The Guardian the other week. "I'd rather puke on my own feet than that".

Well, lucky old The Ting Tings because they have succeeded in writing a single no-one will want to hear, let alone vomit over.

Here's a handy checklist of their crimes against pop:

The song is called Soul Killing and, weirdly, I really like it.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

We've gone a little bit country

Let's take a brief diversion into uncharted territory. Here is some country music, which is deemed suitable for Radio 2's platylist, that just happens to have a very interesting story.

Red Sky July are three people. One of the people is Shelley Poole, who has a habit of writing gigantic pop songs. You will have heard her work on records by people like Massive Attack, Janet Jackson and... er, Daisy Dares You. She was also one half of sibling pop duo Alisha's Attic back in the 1990s. They sounded like this:

Alisha's Attic - I Am, I Feel

We never found out whether Shelley was Alisha or the Attic, but we do know she was the blonde one. We also know she went on to marry Ally McErlaine, who is now one of the other people in Red Sky July. Previously, Ally was best known from strumming along to Sharleen Spiteri's voice, as he was a founding member of album-shifting soft rock combo Texas. Here he is playing the "axe" on a French television programme in the decade that fashion forgot:

Texas - I Don't Want A Lover

If I tell you that the name of the third person in Red Sky July is Charity Hair, you will probably be able to guess which country she comes from. Sadly, there are no prizes if you said "America", or even if you correctly guessed the state of Florida. No-one gets called things like Charity Hair in Baghdad or Yemen, do they?

Charity was also in a band before Red Sky July - but searching for The Ailerons on YouTube just brings up videos of remote controlled aircraft.

So, that's Red Sky July. They've been around for a couple of years but their debut album got delayed by - and this is the nasty bit - Ally suffering a brain aneurysm, which is like an ice cream headache, but a lot, lot worse.

Thankfully he recuperated and the band got snapped up by Big Life management (Snow Patrol) and signed to Gary Barlow's publishing company, San Remo Live. They've got an album coming out later this year, and the first single is called Loving You's Easy.

Now, given that this blog post refers to some of the most middle-of-the-road bands of all time, you shouldn't expect anything too groundbreaking or dubsteppy from the song. It's just very pleasant, in a Sunday-drive-with-your-dad kind of way. But sometimes that's just what the doctor called for (my dad's a doctor).

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lazily copying another press release*

* Except this one is better than the usual guff.

There's no need to thank me but I have just sorted out 17 minutes and 44 seconds of any DJ set you're ever going to do again.



War of Words just posted a mixtape.

Yeah, yeah, i know: everyone does a mixtape, don't they. BUT NOT LIKE THIS.

It's got SNAP! and TLC and BLACK BOX on it.

AND an amazing new War of Words original called Sympathy.

Here it is:


What is great about this particular mixtape is that (a) it is a free download and (b) War Of Words have gone to the effort of re-recording several of the tracks. In the words of Louis Walsh, they have "really made it their own".

Well done, everyone.

So there you go.

Fantastic Mr Fox (and a Dove)

Swedish pop duo Niki and the Dove are what you get when you force the entire Top 40 through a sausage grinder and try to make a Kylie song out of the minced meat. More simply: Niki and the Dove are musical nutjobs of the best possible variety.

Their proper debut single DJ Ease My Mind is out later in the month, of which more later. First up, let's take a look at the video for their free EP download The Fox. The animated clip was created by WINTR, whose website says this: "We unite creative, technical, strategic disciplines to deliver culturally activated digital experiences".

They sound like a bunch of nitwits, but you'll probably forgive them once you've watched this.

Niki & The Dove - The Fox

So, what exactly are Niki and the Dove? Here's what we know so far.

:: Nike and the Dove are really Malin Dahlström and Gustaf Karlöf.

:: They think war is "shit".

:: Their album was written in Northern Sweden "with the forest and mountains surrounding us".

:: "We're inspired by female half-goddesses, bubbles and trancey moves," says Malin.

:: She also notes: "We have the heritage of ABBA".

:: They really, really like afternoon tea.

Isn't that cute?

Now, you might be asking yourself why a superlative pop band of this nature has not featured on the blog before. The answer is quite simple: I didn't really get it until last weekend. Then, as is often the case, I heard them on the radio and suddenly everything clicked *click* like the Fonz's fingers.

So don't dismiss DJ Ease My Mind if it doesn't immediately grab you by the balls and shout "I am a very good pop song" at your faceholes. It's an acquired taste, like Tequila, with almost exactly the same after-effects.

Niki & The Dove - DJ Ease My Mind

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Monday, February 6, 2012

The new Ladyhawke video is a disaster

It is very disappointing to have to report that the new Ladyhawke video is awful. Not just boring or average - but stilted, cheap, awkward, amateur, tacky, pointless and a total distraction from the song.

Nothing about this makes sense. What about the song suggested the theme "Ladyhawke is a photographer on the worst ever episode of America's Next Top Model"? Why do all the men have comedy 70s moustaches? Isn't there a better way to illustrate someone's slow descent into madness than putting a red gel over the camera lens?

Apparently not.

Last week, the Robot Pigeon blog made a good point about the Ladyhawke campaign: While everyone in the real world can see she's a proper pop star, the record label are desperately trying to insist she's some sort of indie maverick.

The video for Black And White And Blue is the direct result of that idiotic mindset. Websites like Pitchfork and Line Of Best Fit will probably declare it a kitsch triumph. Everyone else is just thinking "what a wasted opportunity".

At least the song is still brilliant. And Pip's new hairdo is very glamorous.

Ladyhawke - Black And White And Blue

Update: Apparently it's based on the 1978 movie Eyes of Laura Mars.

No, me neither.

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Madonna's Super Bowl performance: 10/10

Even LMFAO couldn't spoil it...

Madonna - Super Bowl Half Time performance 2012

As one friend pointed out on Facebook: "Madonna makes an amazing cheerleader because behind that smile you know she's a bitch."

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Automatic, systematic, hydromatic

Knock, knock
Who's there?
Carson who?
Carson two wheels in the new M.I.A. video

M.I.A. - Bad Girls

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Friday, February 3, 2012

NSFW? Andrew in Drag

One of the songs we had played at our wedding was The Magnetic Fields' magnificent The Book Of Love, which appealed to our juvenile sense of humour, Kaye's love of all things literary, and a general desire to prick the pomposity of the marriage ceremony:

The book of love is long and boring
No-one can lift the damn thing
It's full of charts and facts and figures
And instructions for dancing
But I love it when you read to me
And you can read me anything

The band have released a new single today. It would also be appropriate for a wedding - albeit a slightly less traditional ceremony. It's about singer Stephin Merrit falling in love with his best friend when he sees him dressed as a woman. "He's the only man I'd ever shag," he notes.

Coincidentally, the subject of the song has the same name as my best man... But I've seen Andrew in drag and it did nothing for me.

The Magnetic Fields track has a great video, which is basically an instruction manual for dragging up. But there's some "mild nudity", so maybe wait til you're at home before clicking the play button.

The Magnetic Fields - Andrew In Drag

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Totally (ep)worth the wait

I've just stumbled across the new single by London-based singer Mary Epworth. I say new, but in fact Black Doe has been out twice before - in 2009 and 2010. But just because we all missed it first time round, it doesn't mean we should ignore it now.

Black Doe starts off with a simple plucked banjo and an unsettling lyric about being watched by a stranger until, around 1:30, someone chucks a drum kit down the staircase and all hell breaks loose. It'll make your bones shake, your knees knock and your hair stand on end like Zayn out of One Direction.

It may help to know that Mary is the sister of Florence & The Machine producer Paul Epworth. Gothic psychedelia and spooky melodrama are clearly a family trait.

Mary Epworth - Black Doe

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Cheerleaders and leotards

What is this, Madonna? 1985?

Madonna - Give Me All Your Luvin'

Madge'n'MIA'n'Minaj (Madgina for short) are performing this at the SuperBowl this weekend... If it's as good as the video, it's going to be spectacular.

If you can't watch the video at work, here are the key frames.

1) Nicki Minaj can't believe her luck.

2) M.I.A. shakes her pom-poms.

3) For Madonna's big entrance, she is pushing a pram, because she is just a regular mum like the rest of us.

4) M.I.A. is left holding the pram because Madonna doesn't really care about children, after all.

5) Bum cheeks.

6) Director instructs the principal vocalists to line up in descending order of height.

7) Cunning perspective trick resembles cut-price version of Lionel Richie's Dancing On The Ceiling.

8) If Madonna entered a Madonna look-alike competition, do you think she would win?

9) Literally no idea what's going on here.

10) Backing dancer has an opportunistic grope.

11) It all ends up at the imaginatively-named "Disco Club".

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Somebody stop them...

Remember 2003, when everyone treated The Darkness as if they were a serious proposition? They won three Brits. Kerrang! gave them its best album award. They even headlined the Reading festival.

What on earth was going on? I mean, The Darkness were ghastly, weren't they? If they weren't basing a Christmas single around the world's most laboured nob gag, they were locked in a competition with Brian May to see who could most upsettingly violate Freddie Mercury's corpse.

May won, of course, when he signed brutally uncharismatic truck driver Paul Rodgers to front the "new Queen". But The Darkness won't be defeated. Due to absolutely no public demand, they have reformed and are putting out a new single called Nothing's Gonna Stop Us - which is essentially Don't Stop Me Now with rusty nails driven into its eyes.

I have posted it below for two reasons:
1) To stop you buying it on iTunes "out of curiosity".
2) The video has a rather brilliant caricature of Purple Rain-era Prince.

PS: I know it's all a big joke, and the melodies aren't that bad, and at least The Darkness aren't Olly bloody Murs. But do we really have to go through this again?

The Darkness - Nothing's Gonna Stop Us

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Going for a walk with Rebecca Ferguson

When you work on a news website, there's a constant stream of user feedback on the stories you write. Aside from the emails and tweets, the BBC has a "heat map", which tells you where people are looking and clicking in real time. It's fascinating, and often terrifying, to see how people interact with the website.

The main thing I've learnt, however, is that you can never guess what stories people will respond to. For example, of all the interviews I've done over the last six months - including Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, Robert Downey Jr - the most popular, by an overwhelming degree was this chat with Rebecca Ferguson. Somehow, while I wasn't looking, the public have totally latched on to the softly-spoken, quietly modest X Factor contestant and her pleasingly easy-on-the-ear album, Heaven.

With a tour about to kick off, she's released the second single Too Good To Lose. It's one of the album's more uptempo numbers, and one of the ones where she most channels the spirit of Heather "what have you done today to make you feel proud" Small.

The treatment for the video is a simple, but effective. A one-take shot of Rebecca strolling down Venice Beach in a floaty red dress. Those blue skies look beautiful, don't they?

Rebecca Ferguson - Too Good To Lose

If you'd like to recreate that walk for yourself, sit next to the radiator and click around this Google Maps widget. Minutes of fun guaranteed*.

View Larger Map

* No refunds will be issued for people who are not having fun with this marvellous implementation of internet technology. Miserable bastards.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Bombay Bicycle Blast Off

Bombay Bicycle Club's polychromatic guitar phrases always seemed to possess an hypnotic, hallucinogenic quality. So it's fitting that their latest video, How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep, is a stop-motion dream sequence in which a man in his pyjamas climbs a ladder to the moon.

Painstakingly pieced together over six months by the band's school-friend Anna Ginsberg (that's her above), it's a beautiful, lyrical companion piece to the song. Take a look.

Bombay Bicycle Club - How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep

Anna has documented the creation of the video on her website, Bicycles On The Moon.

And if that all leaves you in the mood for more whimsical, lunar-centric puppetry, here is an episode of Button Moon. Don't say I don't spoil you.

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