Friday, August 24, 2012

Muse briefly stop being rubbish, and three other songs you may havemissed

... And you'd better enjoy them because I'm off on holiday for an ENTIRE WEEK.

Due to time constraints, the summaries of the following songs have been provided by the internet, in its infinite, illiterate wisdom.

1) Muse - Madness
"Devastatingly, arrestingly beautiful." (Music City Post)

"More hints of Queen." (Shaved Tuna)

"Excuse me for sounding a little behind the times, but what the fuck is Dubstep anyway?" (Kingoftheorient - YouTube)

2) Leona Lewis ft Childish Gambino - Trouble
"Trouble was co-written with Emeli Sandé and bears a slight resemblance to her debut hit, Heaven." (Michael Cragg - The Guardian)


"Her hair is a mess." (DiEEnE - Popjustice forum)

3) Little Mix - We Are Young
"I couldn't believe what I was watching." (BodyElectric - Digital Spy)

"The first girl the camera focuses on looks like she does not have a single thought in her head." (wotyougot)

"I've eaten one dog biscuit in my life, but who hasn't eaten a dog biscuit?" (Perrie from Little Mix)

4) Grimes - Genesis
"A bit weird" (Addict Music)
"Balls-out crazy." (Idolator)
"Fucking nuts." (Stereogum)

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

"Got my headphones on, my hand in my pocket"

She describes herself as "Eminem meets Sade" and declares "I'd love to work with Madonna. That would be like having sex with chocolate." Her name is Anjulie, and she's an aspiring pop star with a brand new record deal from Universal Music.

Raised in Canada by Guyanese parents, Anjulie went to a performing arts school as a child, but quit "because it was too cheesy". She spent the next couple of years watching Janet Jackson's Velvet Rope Tour DVD in slow-motion so she could learn the dance moves, an endeavour of which I heartily approve.

Although the ink is barely dry on her major label contract, she's been knocking around on smaller imprints for a few years. In fact, her seductive, jazzy single Boom got a nomination for an MTV breakthrough award in 2009.

Anjulie - Boom

I don't know what's happened in the intervening three years, but Anjulie seems to have suddenly become (a) Rihanna and (b) utterly filthy. [surely these are the same thing? Ed]

Last year's taster single Brand New Bitch was a pre-watershed Nicki Minaj dance track, co-written with Michael Zitron (Avicii, Swedish House Mafia).

But her new single Headphones is the one that promises to turn her into an international star. Fusing Alanis Morisette's Hand In My Pocket to a lurid club beat, it's a censor-baiting anthem to hedonism. Check out the video below.

Anjulie - Headphones

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A belated sound of the summer

The last person I expected to jump on the europop bandwagon was cybertronic r&b sexbot Ciara. But here she is with Livin' It Up a super-catchy summer jam, written by Wynter Gordon. If we're having an Indian Summer this year, then I demand this be the soundtrack.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Beyonce makes a low-key appearance at the United Nations

Beyoncé is standing in the iconic, wood-lined hall of the United Nations General Assembly. Isn't she beautiful? Such poise. And what an amazing fig... OH MY GOD THE WALLS HAVE COLLAPSED. Seriously, this is like the good bits of Inception. AND NOW BEYONCÉ LITERALLY IS HURTLING THROUGH SPACE and here are a million Beyoncés in an exploding supernova kaleidoscope of Beyoncés.

Why is this happening to me?

Ah... well, it turns out that Beyoncé is raising the profile of the UN's World Humanitarian Day. The global campaign aims to "recognize those who face danger and adversity in order to help others". Accordingly, as Beyoncé's performs at the organisation's New York HQ, a stunning, panoramic video projection shows a few of those people working in war zones and disaster areas to help their fellow man.

The soundtrack is Beyoncé's Diane Warren-penned ballad I Was Here (which was literally rushed onto her album at the very last minute). On its own, the torch song risks sounding vain – "I want to leave my footprints on the sands of time" - but coupled with those images, it becomes a message of sincerity, hope and humanity.

After her performance, Beyoncé put out the following statement: "We all see the headlines and we think, 'What can I really do to help?' World Humanitarian Day is an opportunity for all of us to work together to make a difference. This is our time to leave our mark on the world and show that we were here and we care."

This could easily have been syrupy nonsense but something about the performance and the visuals just clicks. You would be forgiven if you had a tiny tear in your eye by the end...

Beyoncé - I Was Here (at the UN)

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AlunaGeorge continue along the path of utter brilliance

According to this Newsbeat article, Aluna Francis from AlunaGeorge used to be a reflexologist - so it's no wonder their songs sound so supple.

Their latest offering, Your Drums, Your Love has similar ingredients to You Know You Like It and Just A Touch - brooding vocals, creepy slow-attack synths and beats that bounce and scatter like thumb tacks pins dropped on the floor.

Lyrically, it's a tale of unrequited love - with Aluna singing: "I've been treading water for your love / Whether I sink or swim, it's you I'm thinking of".

More importantly, it's the shimmering, sparkling sound of the future. Can't wait for their debut album next year.

Your Drums, Your Love is due out in October. Until then, you can bide your time with this luscious acoustic version of You Know You Like It on the Guardian website.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Beck's video game soundtrack and five other songs you may have missed

A semi-regular round-up of the songs and videos I haven't had the chance to blog during the week... Some excellent tracks this time round, starting with:

1) Beck - Cities
This is one of three tracks Beck has written for a Playstation game called Sound Shapes. Less linear than Guitar Hero or Rock Band, the song takes shape according to your skill at the game - a relatively simple 2D platformer. Cities (below) is probably the best of the bunch but the game also comes packaged with songs from Deadmau5, Jim Guthrie and I Am Robot and Proud.

2) A thousand million people singing Somebody That I Used To Know
Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration, but there are literally hundreds of cover versions of Gotye's megahit on YouTube. And, as a thank you to fans, he's taken all of those covers and stitched them together into a Somebody That I Used To Know megajam. It's much more enticing than it sounds - rather than a note-by-note recreation of the original, the Aussie singer has re-sampled all of the covers to create a trippy, Avalanches-esque sound montage. Just a shame you can't download it!

3) Jade Alston - Sober
Indie and R&B aren't two words that normally go together, but Philly girl Jade Alston is an soul diva who's independently releasing her own material. Funky and fresh, she's been working with Claude Kelly (Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, Jessie J) and Chuck Harmony (Mary J Blige, Rihanna). Her mixtape, Single On A Saturday Night, was released for free last December - but she's just got round to making a video to the cheeky, body-popping single Sober. Definitely worth a look.

4) Regina Spektor - How
One of the most sincere, straightforward songs on Regina's latest LP, How is a heart-rending break-up ballad. "How can I begin again? How can I try to love someone new? Someone who isn’t you..." pleads the New Yorker, dispensing with her usual "hic dong Wallop plop!" vocal tics. This performance, from Jay Leno's show last night, will bring a lump to your throat.

5) Alison Valentine - Peanut Butter
Florist by day, singer by night, Alison Valentine once spent an entire summer following Prince around Europe. There's basically no higher recommendation in my book - and she delivers on that promise with Peanut Butter, a crunchy summer jam with more hooks than a meat locker. It is also - TA-DA - free to download.

6) The Darkness - Street Spirit (Fade Out)
The Darkness have been covering this as their encore for years. But that doesn't make this awful, karaoke-bar cover version any more acceptable. If Ben Elton ever writes a Radiohead musical, it will sound like this.

And that's all... Hope you have a great weekend!

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

While we're on the subject...

Since I was just talking about harmonies in the previous post about The Staves, I thought it would be worth posting this video of Little Mix. Recorded to accompany an i-D magazine photoshoot, it sees the girl band performing Wings acoustically, in front of the world's most boring set of curtains. It turns out they are also very good at the whole singing-in-tune business.

Top marks for the Baby Love floor stomp at the end.

Little Mix - Wings (acoustic)

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The Staves talk harmonies

About once a year, I get an overwhelming, unrelenting bandcrush. This year, the object of my obsession is The Staves – three sisters from Watford whose closely-woven harmonies are quite simply supernatural.

The proof is in the pudding, and in this case the pudding is Mark Radcliffe's BBC 6 Music show. The trio turned up in his studio on Tuesday for a bit of a chat, and Mark goaded them into an impromptu, acapella performance of Wisely and Slow. Take a listen to what happened next. It's good. Too good. I'm thinking witchcraft was involved.

Afterwards, Mark asked the band how those harmonies came about. "We've always sung together," said Jessica. "We were annoying people to live next door to!"

"Our mum and dad have got really nice voices as well and they always sang around the house when we were little, and would sing nursery rhymes and Beatles songs to us. We just absorbed it as we grew up."

And, asked how they decide who sings which part, Jessica replied: "Our voices seemed to have a weird thing were they fall in order of age. Emily is the oldest and she's got the bass-ier voice. I'm in the middle and I've got a mid-level voice (at which point Emily chips in: "a really average voice") and Camilla is the high one."

So there you go.

The band are currently getting ready to release their debut album, Dead & Born & Grown, but you can already get their two EPs (Mexico and Motherlode), which I’ve had on near-constant rotation since April, on iTunes right now. And you’d be daft not to.

The Staves - Icarus

Photo credit: Rebecca Miller. Check out her photoshoot with The Staves on her blog.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Azealia Banks causes a splash

Rapper Azealia Banks seems to spend as much time firing managers and appearing in glossy fashion magazines as she does making actual music. All of her best tracks - 212, L8R, Liquorice and new single Van Vogue have been floating around since the start of the year. The Fantasea mixtape, released for free last month, may be an acceptable stopgap for the hardcore - but where's all the crossover material she's allegedly been working on with Paul Epworth? We want the hooks, goddamit.

Anyway, here's the video for the minimalistic, clicky Van Vogue, which first came out on the New Yorker's 1991 EP in May. The title is appropriate, as the song recreates the hypnotic house stylings that (eventually) gave rise to Madonna's similarly-named number one... although Azealia's track is more Frankie Knuckles than Shep Pettibone, house-music-producer-fans.

Like the video for Liquorice, this was directed by noted fashion photographer Rankin, whose knack for iconography is put to full use.

Best bit: Woof!

Azealia Banks - Van Vogue


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Is this the next 'Call Me Maybe'?

I like Taylor Swift. She always comes across as charming and likeable and unaffected in her interviews. In private, she might be the sort of person who pours salt into her assistant's cappuccino and locks them in a cupboard "for a laugh", but somehow I doubt it.

What I don't have time for is her music. My brain is deficient in country music neurons. My ears do not enjoy any noise resembling a twang. My heart is neither achy nor breaky.

So its something of a surprise to find that Swift has ditched the sound that made her a squillionaire and "gone pop". And I mean wholeheartedly, unashamedly, punch you in the tits, autotune up the wazoo, 72-point comic sans, pink bubblegum, pure POP.

Her new single We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together is basically Avril Lavigne's faux angst channeled through Hannah Montana. It has already confused some of Swift's fans. "Just trash," wrote one on Youtube. Another noted: "She is contributing majorly to the destruction of this planet's ecology and humanity," a statement which raises more questions than it answers, really.

To be fair, it's a cracking pop song and one which might finally end Swift's appalling chart record in the UK. It has the same breezy, effortless charm that made Carly Rae Jepsen's Call Me Maybe an unavoidable radio hit - I wonder if the playlist people will agree?

NB: Try not to pay attention to the lyrics, which have all the emotional insight of a Jersey Shore box set.

Taylor Swift - We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together (lyric video)

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The inescapable Emeli Sande is inescapable

Do you think there's a big Olympic computer in Stratford that has "book Emeli Sandé" as a default option?

There she was at the opening ceremony singing plaintively over a simple piano motif, and there she was at the closing ceremony, singing plaintively over a simple piano motif. Her quiff seemed to have flopped a bit in the meantime - presumably because they'd locked her in a cupboard to stop her doing a runner.

The big Olympic computer isn't stupid. Emile's catch-in-your-throat vocals tip buckets of emotion over any scenario, no matter how grandiose or ridiculous. And, yes, that includes supporting Coldplay. So it's no big surprise that Naughty Boy has snared the Aberdonian singer for his debut single, Wonder.

If you don't know Naughty Boy, he's a South London producer who started making music in his garden shed, and now owns a state-of-the-art recording studio with tea and coffee making facilities and everything. Over the last few years, he's been shuffling faders for the likes of Chipmunk, Cheryl Cole and Tinie Tempah. All the while, he's been sneakily working on his debut solo record – a concept album called Hotel Cabana.

As far as I can work out, Naughty Boy doesn't actually feature on the album. According to the blurb, the record will feature a "stellar cast" of guest stars, whose names are being kept under wraps (although eyepatch enthusiast Gabrielle has already blabbed that she's on a forthcoming single called Hollywood). But if the rest of the album matches the anthemic, soulful debut single, we're in for a treat.

Naughty Boy ft Emeli Sande

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Ellie Goulding artwork and new single

Blimey, you can barely move around this internet without bumping into some new Ellie Goulding material. Regular readers will already know the score - Ellie is back with her second album; it all sounds promising in a thumpy electro-pop sort of way, but she should avoid all contact with Tinie Tempah and his "hilarious" lyrics about indigestion.

The album, Halcyon, is out on 8 October. "This album for me is a journey from dark into light from confusion to understanding," says Ms Goulding in a press release I have just cut-and-pasted from Outlook. "I didn't set out to write a break-up record but I think it became one."

The first proper single, Anything Could Happen, is out in September. It comes with an Instagram-tastic lyric video, and a cover shot of Ellie in an UNCOMFORTABLY TIGHT rubber dress.

Phowarr, boys, am I right? Am I Right? AM I RIGHT?

I am right.

Ellie Goulding - Anything Could Happen

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Two Door Cinema Club - Sleep Alone video

I can "exclusively" reveal that Two Door Cinema Club's second album Beacon is a corker: Compact and spiky with a warm, fuzzy centre, like a hedgehog.

They can put that on the sticker for free.

The first single, revealed a couple of weeks ago, is called Sleep Alone - one of several tracks that tackle the subject of insomnia (but a really upbeat, singalong variety of insomnia). The video popped up on YouTube yesterday evening, and the basic plot is as follows.

1) Two Door Cinema Club are a standard issue indie band, looking bored in a drab hotel room.

2) Not really! They are rock wizards, flying through the forest on the back of a magic Stratocaster.

3) But it was all just a dream and Two Door Cinema Club really are a standard issue indie band, looking bored in a drab hotel room.

*slow handclap*

Two Door Cinema Club - Sleep Alone

PS: If you didn't read my interview with Alex from TDCC on the BBC news site yesterday, you can find it here.

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Apparently Gotye has some other songs, too...

The success of Somebody That I Used To Know has been so overwhelming that I entirely missed Gotye's follow-up single, Easy Way Out. That came out in February, accompanied by a clever stop-motion video starring multiple semi-naked Gotyes going about their daily business before meeting a horrific plasticine-based death.

Gotye - Easy Way Out

Hopefully the next single from the Aussie singer's Making Mirrors album won't disappear quite as quickly, as it's definitely worthy of your time.

Save Me is the counter-weight to Somebody That I Used To Know, where a couple find strength and succour in each other's arms, instead of breaking apart like a jelly in a fan.

You gave me love
When I could not love myself
And you made me turn
From the way I saw myself
And your patient love
Helped me help myself
You save me

The video is another little work of art - produced Piepants Animation, who won a YouTube animation award last year with the world's most elaborate doodle of a sidewalk. I'm not sure what relevance the images are supposed to have to the song, but we get to see Gotye being built out of scribbles, cardboard and rashers of bacon. Amazing.

Gotye - Save Me

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How a writing camp resulted in Labrinth's new single

Young Timothy McKenzie (aka Labrinth) has been successful enough to warrant a fifth single from his generally-quite-good debut album, Electronic Earth.

Treatment is the one where he indulges his inner angsty rock star and breaks out the axe. It's more Maroon 5 than AC/DC, though, so none of his fans are likely to be scared away...

When I spoke to Labrinth earlier this year, he mentioned the song was the by-product of a writing camp he attended in Nashville, the mecca of country music. Here’s how he described it.

"I went out there and we wrote songs – just piano, guitar, song. I was working with Josh Kear, Luke Laird and loads of big country writers.

"It wasn't a camp. We didn't come out with millions of songs. Some of the songs weren't amazing. But in terms of what I heard and what I learnt, it was very raw: Let's learn the bare minimum of how to create a song so people really understand what you're saying, how to write a punchline, all that kind of stuff.

Does anyone else fancy getting together for one of these songwriting seminars? I bet if we all tried really, really hard, we could write a credible Saturdays B-side.

Labrinth - Treatment

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The return of Mumford and Sons

Get off your horse, strap on your cowboy boots and start chompin' on some straw, because Mumford and Sons are BACK BACK BACK. And they done spit in the sawdust, y'all hear?

Here is their banjo-tastic new single, I Will Wait.

Oh, alright then. THIS is Mumford’s new single, I Will Wait.

As one “wag” put it on Twitter: "This new Mumford & Sons song sounds like Mumford & Sons crossed with Mumford & Sons."

As you were, then.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

New music: A Fine Frenzy - Now Is The Start

What can I tell you about A Fine Frenzy? Well, here are six things for starters.

  • A Fine Frenzy is the nom de chanson of Alison Sudol, a singer-songwriter from LA. The name is taken from a line in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. I'd have preferred "hey nonny no" but you can't have everything.

  • You will often find Alison with her nose in a book. Or her ear in a book, or her shin in a book. This is because she owns too many books. "I rolled over in the middle of the night last night and I got stabbed by a book," she told Rue Magazine, enigmatically.

  • If Florence and the Machine was a pallid indie pop princess, she would probably sound like A Fine Frenzy. Alison has a real knack at that elusive trick of setting up an addictive groove, then smashing you sideways with a delicious, unexpected chord change.

  • When Alison gets bored with her band, she redecorates them with paint, as evidenced in the video for the excellent Electric Twist.

  • She loves the environment. "If you go into a forest, if you stand by the sea, if you go out into the hills, it's impossible not to be affected by that," she once told the world's most unbelievably self-important interviewer.

  • Certain members of the "blogosphere" have (not unreasonably) developed an unhealthy crush on Alison. One of them even used an interview to ask her out, which was definitely not awkward at all.

  • A Fine Frenzy's first two albums haven't exactly set the charts alight in the UK, not that that matters, but happily a third is on the way in October. That album is called Pines, and the first single from it is Now Is The Start, which you can hear below.
A Fine Frenzy - Now Is The Start (audio)

Yum yum bubblegum.

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Monday, August 6, 2012

LIsten: Ellie Goulding album sampler

After the phenomenal success of Ellie Goulding's cover of Your Song, I feared her second album would be a snoresome acoustic-ballad sobfest. I was wrong.

Ellie posted a 2-minute trailer for Halcyon on YouTube over the weekend. It's hard to draw conclusions but the work she presents is euphoric, percussive pop, strewn with hooks and blooming with harmonies. There is evidence of one "I am crying at a piano" moment, but even that sounds delicate and pretty in its own way.

But can anyone confirm whether the lyric at 1'47" makes a reference to "trouser love"???

Ellie Goulding - Halcyon sampler>

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Biffy Clyro return, and four other songs you may have missed...

It's been a busy week at Discopop Towers (we were off to the Olympics on Tuesday, for starters) so the pile of new releases has been growing and growing, like a fairytale beanstalk of music.

As I work my way through, here are five of the tracks that stand out.

1) Biffy Clyro - Stingin' Belle
Bagpipes? Check.
Ball-breaking riffs? Check.
Unusual time signature? Check.
Removal of shirts? Check.
It's Biff-o-clock.

2) Mariah Carey - Triumphant (Get 'Em)
To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from Mariah's comeback single, but Triumphant is surprisingly catchy. While the younger generation of R&B stars are rubbing themselves up against David Guetta like dogs in heat, Mariah is sticking with 'Get Your Number' hitmaker Jermaine Dupri for an old-school soul jam. There is also rapping.

3) Air Traffic Controller - You Know Me
Boston's Air Traffic Controller are the brainchild of singer-songwriter Dave Munro who used to be... yes, an Air Traffic Controller. Stick with what you know, kids. Stick with what you know.

You Know Me is a jangly indie version of Opposites Attract. Dave and bandmate Casey Sullivan sing through a shopping list of their differences, but in the end they declare: "a lot of folks can sing in harmony, but no-one will ever know me like you know me". Awwww.

4) Amelia Lily - You Bring Me Joy
Her boyfriend brings her joy; Amelia Lily brings us an exceptionally dull video. There is no justice.

5)Parade - Light Me Up
The much-predicted (by me) girl band resurgence of 2012 has failed to materialise. War Of Words have split up, the Girls Aloud reunion continues to be rumour, and Oh My! are more "Oh No!". So congratulations to Parade for persevering with the whole idea, and for doing it independently after they were dropped by their record label.

Light me Up is a frothy pop track, where the melody cruises slightly ahead of the drum loop, giving everything a propulsive thrill. Produced by Tim Powell (Round Round, Call The Shots, Sweet About Me) you can download it for free. It's worth it, too.

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

BONG! It's time for Banjo news

There's a whiff of stale yoghurt about the nu-folk scene these days (is anyone really that interested in a Mumford And Sons' second album?) but the record labels keep churning this stuff out.

Newcomers The Staves and Haim both have an undefinable magic that sets them apart from the stompy-footed farmhand stereotype, but what of the rest of the bunch?

Iceland's Of Monsters And Men are guilty of numerous crimes, including a particularly nasty case of trumpet abuse, but their boy-girl vocal dynamic gives their new single, Little Talks, a merry boost.

Of Monsters And Men - Little Talks

Meanwhile, Stealing Sheep have discarded their itchy, threadbare folk sweaters and gone for a romp in the fields of pop. Based in Liverpool, you can hear echoes of the city's close-harmony heritage in the fruity psychedelia of their latest single Genevieve. It's like spinning in a swivel chair (ie marvellous until you throw up).

Stealing Sheep - Genevieve

Tomorrow, back to your regular pop music service.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

If I Was Your Girl, etc

If was the second single from Janet Jackson's phenomenally successful janet. album (the one where she wears a bra made out of hands on the cover). In fact, if Virgin had got their way, it would have been the album's lead single - but Jackson sensibly held out for the sultry That's The Way Love Goes, which repositioned her from "moral crusader backed by an army of dancers" to "confident, sexually mature woman".

Still, If is a great track - full of thundering drums, squalling guitar and a bonkers sample from The Supremes' Someday We'll Be Together. The video also contains some of Jackson's best choreography (especially the sand dance that occurs around 2'59").

The track's just been remixed by mysterious US producer Moon Boots (his official biography claims he "came to life during a classified experiment aboard the International Space Station"). Adding some twilight keyboard effects and a raspy 80s bassline, he spins the song into a luscious summer jam. Great stuff.

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