Thursday, December 27, 2012

Discopop Directory: Top 10 singles of 2012

Hello there! Hope you all had a good Christmas. I certainly did, if the number of bottles in the recycling bin are any indication.

Anyway, with the New Year rapidly approaching, it's time for the big TOP TEN of the year. As usual, I've based mine on iTunes play counts (with a little arithmetic to make sure songs released later in the year don't suffer). It's by no means definitive - I seem to have completely ignored some of the year's biggest hits - but if you don't like at least three of the following songs, you're dead in the soul.

10) Cheryl - Call My Name

Old swan dive herself, giving it some welly on a Calvin Harris-produced bum-rattler. "How do you think I feel when you call my name?" she asked. If we used her marital surname, the answer was "very stroppy indeed".

9) Gotye - Somebody That I Used To Know

Gangnam Style aside, this is the best pop lyric of the year. Over a plinky-plonky xylophone Gotye spends two minutes whining about being dumped when, all of a sudden, his ex pops up and says: "Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over". Ouch!

They'll be teaching this one at the Brit School for years to come.

8) Kanye West and Jay-Z - N****s In Paris

There's a reason why Jay-Z and Kanye performed this seven times a night on their Watch The Throne tour: They're egomaniacs. But this time, they're forgiven. "Paris", as the radio edit was called, is the sound of two mega-stars goofing off and accidentally creating a hit single. That shit cray, indeed.

7) The Staves - Mexico

The Staves beguiling harmonies are a honey trap. They sound like three chaste handmaidens but take a listen to the lyrics of Mexico, and they're asking to be rogered on their lover's bed. Well, I never.

6) Girls Aloud - Something New
I suspect this made the Top 10 out of sheer relief. That Girls Aloud came back and didn't fumble the first single was a miracle. Sure, Something New has clunky bits (the uninspired rap in the first verse) but it's essentially a distillation of everything that made the band great. Sexy, shouty, stylish, skinny and ginger.

5) Marina & The Diamonds - Primadonna
This isn't a pop song, it just sounds like one. Or so Marina would have you believe. But if we paid attention to every pretentious ambition a pop star had for their "oeuvre" we'd never listen to anything.

Primadonna makes this list for one reason: The bit where Marina's voice drops an entire octave as she sings "I know I've got a big ego / I really don't know why it's such a big deal, though." A moment of melodic genius that stops the song being just another Katy Perry knock-off. The remixes were great too.

4) Little Mix - Wings
A fanfare. Some handclaps. Someone says "shhh" when they really mean "shit". Then it all goes a bit Aguilera. There's an almighty bridge, an astounding chorus. And, what's this? A second chorus. Incredible.

Admittedly, the lyrics aren't perfect. Girl Bands have been peddling the whole "you're beautiful on the inside" line since TLC's Unpretty with diminishing returns. But Wings is saved by that almighty military breakdown in the outro. Best pop moment of the year.

3) Alunageorge - Your Drums, Your Love
If anyone is going to save R&B from drowsy bore kings The Weeknd and Drake, it's AlunaGeorge. Mixing spaceship sound effects with the palatable bits of dubstep and chuffing great pop hooks, they should be getting a call from Beyonce's "people" any day now. This reached a wholly unimpressive number 50 in the charts last October. Seriously, what is wrong with you people?

2) Lana Del Rey - National Anthem
A cautionary tale about a wealthy man who seduces a young ingénue ("you tell me to 'be cool' but I don’t know how yet"), only for her to turn the tables in the second verse ("You said to 'be cool'... I said to 'get real'"). A love story for the new age, it should be the theme to Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby.

1) Jessie Ware - Wildest Moments
Wildest Moments is about a girl who threw a cake in Jessie Ware's face at a wedding.Honestly.

"My nightmare of a best friend," Ware called her in this interview, explaining: "I never fight with people, but me and her fight. That's my girl, Sarah, and that’s what Wildest Moments is about."

A ballad with drums the size of boulders, and a heart that's even bigger, Wildest Moments is neither the most obvious, nor the most original, song on this list. But it is absolutely the best.

Happy listening.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

The xx cover Wham!

It's Christmas next week, so all concepts of taste and credibility can be put to one side. Here are The xx covering Last Christmas in the Live Lounge. It's rather special.

And if that's all too authentic for you, you can bathe yourself in the fizzy waters of planet pop on Radio 4 later today. In fifteen minutes, in fact (that's 11:30, GMT fans) when Neil Tennant is presenting a documentary on ver Smash Hits magazine. A must-listen, if the preview clips are anything to go by.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Four songs you may have missed

Oh hi there. Apologies for the total lack of updates since Friday. If it's any consolation, every time you hit the refresh button, I was busy throwing up. Not pleasant.

Anyway, I'm not about to let my recovery get in the way of a blog post. Here are a couple of videos that found their way onto the internet while I had my head down the toilet.

1) Taylor Swift - I Knew You Were Trouble
Should songs be allowed to be this catchy? Maybe, but at the very least the UN should have some sort of monitoring set-up. If this power got into the wrong hands, we'd all be in trouble.

2) Jessie Ware - Sweet Talk
Because kids dressing up as successful pop stars and miming to a backing track is the music video trope that refuses to die.

3) Girls Aloud - Beneath Your Beautiful
Top marks to the Aloud for this cover of the Labrinth / Emeli Sande song in Radio 1's Live Lounge last week. And bonus points for sneaking in the chorus to their latest single, Beautiful 'Cause You Love Me.

It's 100% less ridiculous than the ITV1 documentary on the band's tenth anniversary, which aired last weekend. "During the three-year hiatus, Cheryl had three platinum-selling solo albums, and the rest of the band were busy with projects that were personally important to them as well."

4) Charli XCX - You (Ha Ha Ha)
How Charli XCX isn't on the various "sound of 2013" lists is beyond me. Her latest single, You (Ha Ha Ha) isn't her strongest - a monotonous chorus rescued by a yelping Gold Panda sample - but it's still better than anything on the last Saturdays album.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

New pop find: Chlöe Howl - No Strings

You know how pop songs are all "I'm totally in love with this person and I just can't deny it (d-d-deny it)"? Gets a bit tiresome. We prefer the pop songs that bare their teeth a little. Key examples include Cee-Lo Green's F**k You and Beyoncé's Irreplaceable.

Now we can add No Strings to that list.

It's by 17-year-old newcomer Chlöe Howl (digging the umlaut) and it's a furious sweary pop belter. "You don't even know if I'm the right sex, do you?" she taunts her partner.


Chlöe Howl - No Strings

Recently signed to Columbia Records, Chlöe is so fresh and new that the internet is bereft of useful information. So I spent the last hour stalking her (genuinely very entertaining) Twitter account. Here are my conclusions.

1) She has a big face

2) Her dad lives in Legoland

3) Chlöe has principles

4) Chlöe is an "ideas person"

5) Never feed her a Snickers

6) She is a trainee vampire

So now you know.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rise and shine, it's Sarah Blasko

What do you do when your third album is a huge crossover success? In Sarah Blasko's case, you ditch the producer, hire a Bulgarian orchestra and set about making your next album on your own.

Blasko has been a star of Australian's alternative scene for a decade now. As Day Follows Night - a bittersweet set about breaking up with her former co-writer Robert Cranny - won her an Aria for best female, and was named record of the year by radio station Triple J (the Oz equivalent of 6 Music) in 2010.

The album was also her first official UK release - where it won favourable comparisons to Lykke Li's debut, whose Swedish production team Blasko had hired. The singer later moved to Brighton, where she put together the demos for her follow-up, I Awake. But to commit them to tape (or ProTools, or GarageBand, or whatever format we're using in this crazy modern universe) she went back to Sweden and played her heart out in a cabin in the dead of winter.

The album is out now in Australia, but us Poms have to wait 'til April to get our hands on it. Luckily, you can hear the title track (and first single) right here, right now.

It opens with Blasko banging on a big bass drum, singing "I'm not scared," with a hesitancy that suggests the very opposite. Over the next four minutes, that 65-piece orchestra slowly emerges in the mix, bolstering Blasko's determination, and building to a bold, defiant battle cry in the last chorus.

Sarah Blasko - I Awake

Sarah Blasko is touring I Awake in Europe (including a night at London's Barbican) next Spring... There's no word yet on how she'll present the songs in this hemisphere - but I really hope she replicates her Australian tour, where she played with the resident orchestra in every major city she visited, often with just an afternoon to rehearse. Sounds crazy, but incredible.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Michael Kiwanuka is trying to make me cry

So, the longlist for the BBC's Sound Of 2013 is out. Regular readers will know I'm very excited to see Haim and AlunaGeorge and A*M*E get nominations, while Laura Mvula, Kodaline, Palma Violets and Chvrches are all strong nominees, too. (You can see the whole list here.)

A couple of the papers are carping on this morning about how the 2012 winner, Michael Kiwanuka, has "flopped". True, he never quite set the world on fire - he'd be more likely to buy the world a cocoa - but his album quietly sold over 100,000 copies, making it one of the year's most successful debuts (although still a long way behind Emeli Sande's million-selling Our Version Of Events).

With impeccable timing, Michael just released the video for his latest, and presumably final, single from Home Again. Set in Spain, the clip for Always Waiting is a heart-rending little story, which unexpectedly brought a lump to my throat first thing this morning.

Tissues at the ready, then...

Michael Kiwanuka - Always Waiting

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New music find: Lion Babe

It turns out AlunaGeorge aren't the only ones furiously performing CPR on the moribund R&B genre. New York duo Lion Babe have come along with a massive syringe to give it an adrenaline shot to the heart. Admittedly, this just involves using some new synth settings and remembering to write a tune - but you'd be surprised how many other artists have lost the knack.

Lion Babe are Lucas "Astro Raw" Good and frontwoman Jillian Hervey (daughter of Ugly Betty actress Vanessa Williams). They have arrived via cable modem from New York and their debut single is called Treat Me Like Fire. Using vinyl static to suggest the crackle of an open fire, it's certainly kept me warm this morning. Which is handy, because the boiler just packed up.

Don't be put off by the 'pretending to be a feral lion' nonsense at the start of this video. Things really start to get going around the 50 second mark.

Oh, and you might not want to watch it in the office unless you happen to have a very liberal HR policy.

Lion Babe - Treat Me Like Fire

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Friday, December 7, 2012

Bruno Mars sings The Little Mermaid and other songs you may have missed

A semi-regular round-up of songs I didn't have the time or inclination to write about over the last week. It's like a mini Friday mixtape composed of YouTube videos.

1) Bruno Mars - The Little Mermaid medley
Impossible to dislike: Bruno Mars performs Part Of Your World and Under The Sea for Radio One's Live Lounge. He also did one of his own songs. I'm not posting that.

2) Katy B - Danger EP
Mercury nominee and 'Easy Please Me' hitmaker Katy B is readying her second album for 2013 - but she gave fans an early Christmas present today, by posting a free EP on her official website. With a pretty stellar line-up of special guests, it features Jessie Ware, Wiley, Diplo and Iggy Azealia. Stuffed full of sub-bass, soulful vocal licks and 8-bit video game FX, it's already stuck in my head like a meat cleaver.

3) Biffy Clyro - Black Chandelier
This is the first "proper" single from Biffy's forthcoming double album. Due out in early 2013, the 20-track set was originally going to be called The Sand At The Core Of Our Bones / The Land At The End Of Our Toes. Thankfully, someone sobered up long enough to notice this sounded like the dialogue from a particularly bad episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, and had it changed to the much more compact "Opposites".

4) St Lucia - September
80s-obsessed, Pitchfork-approved pop outfit St Lucia are being tipped for big things in 2013, but they need to sort out their self-indulgent intros if they're ever going to get daytime raido play. Their new single, September, takes more than 2 minutes to get to the chorus, and another 80 seconds before it really kicks into gear. But if you have the patience, it's a great song.

5) Emeli Sande - Clown
"Success is impatient. Your audience is waiting." Clown is about Emeli Sande's struggle not to be restyled and remoulded when she was shopping for a record deal. "I was going for all these meetings and people were looking at me like 'What do we do with you'?" she says in the YouTube introduction to the song. "I feel the video reflects that". With her album clocking up its millionth sale this week, Virgin must be pretty glad they allowed her to stand her ground.

Sande is off to "break the States" in the new year, but she won't be forgetting her fans in the UK. Earlier this week, she teased the prospect of a new EP on her Twitter account.

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

I like to Mvula, Mvula*

The Brits announced their Critics' Choice shortlist this morning - with Discopop heroes AlunaGeorge sitting at the top... Alphabetically, at least. The actual winner doesn't get announced until 20 December, and they will join the likes of Emeli Sande, Adele and Jessie J in collecting a big trophy for a record they have yet to release. The modern world, eh?

AlunaGeorge's competition comes from floppy-fringed balladeer Tom Odell, and 26-year-old Laura Mvula who, I have to admit, had totally passed me by until today.

Formally trained in composition at the Birmingham Conservatoire, Laura later worked (as a receptionist) for the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. She is now signed to RCA where she is being fast-tracked as a "priority act" for 2013.

In a year with no shortage of female singer-songwriters, she stands apart from the crowd by putting those years of classical training to good use. Her songs have a choral feel - with complex, layered harmonies breathing new life into well-worn soul sounds. Over the top comes Laura's voice, all smoky and resonant, lagging behind the beat like a modern Billie Holiday.

Apparently, she's already been Fearne Cotton's "Big Thing", so I'm hardly racing ahead of the pack here. But if you're new to Laura, too, here are two of the tracks she's released so far. I can't recommend them highly enough.

Laura Mvuala - She

* Sorry

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Stop everything. This is amazing.

100% guaranteed to put a smile on your face: Mariah Carey and The Roots perform All I Want For Christmas Is You on schoolroom instruments. Is there any song that can't be improved with a kazoo? (Hint: no).

Jimmy Fallon, The Roots and Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas Is You

How can we start a petition to get Jimmy Fallon broadcast in the UK?

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Girls Aloud release their Beautiful 'Cause You Love Me video

When Girls Aloud premiered their new single, Beautiful 'Cause You Love Me, last month, I wrote a vaguely critical review ("underwhelming" was the verdict), which earned a frowny-face tweet from the song's composer, Maiday.

Maybe I was blindsided by the uber-conventional structure (we've come to expect Girls Aloud to provide seventeen choruses and a rap and a coda where Sarah sings about vicars) because the song has grown on me since.

The turning point was the band's smouldering performance on Children In Need, but repeated listens have also highlighted the complex vocal arrangements (in particular, the beautiful crescendo before the second chorus) and the thankful absence of a key change. It may be formulaic, and the lyrics are a bit clunky, but it works.

The video helps, too... With shades of The Spice Girls' Goodbye (i.e. it's set in a mansion) it is simple enough not to get in the way of the song, but pretty enough to keep your attention.


Girls Aloud - Beautiful Cause You Love Me

Oh, and here are some behind-the-scenes shots...

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The year in pop condensed into 8 minutes

I always enjoy a megamix, and the end-of-year ones are always best. It gives you chance to go "loved it, loved it, hated it, don't know it, loved it, surely that one was last year, oh crap it's Justin Bieber."

DJ Earworm is the acknowledged king of the mash-up - but here's one by Daniel Kim that makes a convincing challenge for the throne.

Pop Danthology 2012 - Daniel Kim

Daniel wrote a fascinating blog post about the two-month (two month!) process of piecing the mix together, which you can read here.

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Listen to The Killers' seventh Christmas single

For a band who record a charity Christmas single every year, it's surprisingly hard to find a picture of The Killers wearing Santa hats or shiny red noses. This is disappointing.

Less of a letdown, however, is this year's entry into their Christmas canon. Feel It In My Bones is a smoky, impatient rock groove, featuring the return of the Psycho Father Christmas from 2007's Don't Shoot Me Santa, played again by Ryan Pardey.

Recorded in one-day on a pit stop on their current world tour, the song is by no means dashed off. In fact, it trumps a couple of tracks on their current album Battle Born.

Once they hit 10 tracks, The Killers' Funtime Christmas Party Album is going to be something quite special, isn't it?

Feel It In My Bones is out on Tuesday, with all proceeds benefitting Aids charity (RED).

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