Sia was at the Norweigan-American Achievement Award ceremony last night. It doesn't look like the most showbiz event of all time. In fact, I've been to more glitzy lectures. But that's not why we're here.
Taking to the stage with Stargate, Sia explained how she wrote Diamonds for Rihanna in 22 minutes, and recorded the demo in 26. That's under an hour, folks. Could you write a global number one in your lunch break? Exactly.
Tor Erik Hermansen, one half of Stargate, commented: "She had her coat on and her bag in her hand, and a car waiting downstairs to take her to the airport!" (thanks to @bananasmc for the quote)
A bit of her speech has made it onto YouTube. But even better, Sia then performed the song... It's really interesting to hear how her vocal inflections are almost exactly the same as the "official" version. Did Rihanna impersonate Sia, or has Sia become so familiar with the single that she's essentially covering Rihanna covering her demo?
Did you remember to download Charli XCX's Super Ultra Mixtape when it came out on 7th November? No? Tut tut.
Well, to remind you it exists, Charli has released a video Cloud Aura - the scratchy, funky revenge song that opens the tape. Directed by horror movie buff Ryan Andrews, it splices performances with scuzzed up scenes from classic films and TV shows (mainly, it has to be said, pictures of women crying).
I can identify about half of them - but I'm completely stumped for the rest. Can you help with any of these??
1) Britney Spears 2) Bonnie & Clyde 3) 4) Jay-Z 5) Emma Stone??? 6) Carrie 7) 8) The Terminator (first film??) 9) 10) Pikachu / Micachu Pokémon thing 11) Casablanca, obviously 12) Haven't got a clue
Watching the video might be easier than scanning through that lo-res picture wall... So here it is. Any answers / suggestions in the comment box or on Twitter please.
As the nights draw in, the songs of summer start to sound ridiculous. Gangnam Style is made for larking about in a paddock, not walking down a grubby alleyway as you're followed by a man who is definitely a murderer. What you need is something spooky and dramatic, a pop soundtrack to the early sunset.
Luckily, we can oblige.
First up is Haim, the sisterly trio from Los Angeles, who have put together a video for their new single Don't Save Me. It features the band shooting hoops (that's playing basketball for those readers not down with the slang) and performing their trademark "we made this up in our bedroom" choreography. Sweeping synths and moody vocals abound. This is what Ladyhawke's second album should have sounded like.
The Good Natured provide a suitable companion track with 5-HT, a claustrophobic doompop scrawl, which equates love to drugs ("you kill the pain, my opiate"). With their science boffin hats on, the band have named the track after 5-Hydroxytryptophan, an amino acid involved in the production of seratonin, which is thought to have an effect on our moods, sexual desire and appetites. As a result 5-HT is often prescribed for the treatment of depression. Cheery, huh?
The song is produced by Richard X and is therefore quite magnificent. It's not out til March 13th, though. March!!
In a neat twist on the lyric video concept, Jessie J has had the words to her new single Silver Lining (Crazy 'Bout You) projected onto her body. As it's the theme song to new romcom Silver Linings (Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence), she also has scenes from the movie beamed onto her back. Jessie looks naked but unless she has Barbie boobs I'd wager it's a flesh-coloured body stocking.
Crazy 'Bout You is a big ole ballad by "Don't Want To Miss A Thing" songwriter Dianne Warren. So Ms J, who never knowingly undersells a vocal, goes completely to town. By the end, she has layered three separate takes on top of each other "for good measure".
I'll let you decide whether clicking on the play button is really a wise idea.
Last night, London's tiny Electrowerkz club was rammed with people hoping to be converted to the cult of Chvrches... And they didn't leave disappointed.
The trio hail from Glasgow, where they've played with a number of bands over the years - dabbling in emo and indie rock before settling on their current incarnation. You can hear echoes of those earlier projects in the band's gothic brand of synthpop. Distorted riffs and an undercurrent of gloom underpin even their shiniest moments.
Admirably, the band say they want to avoid the metronomic precision of modern pop. "We are trying to keep things rougher," keyboardist Martin Doherty told The Guardian. "Instead of quantising everything in a 'dance' way, we want to keep it rough, like demos."
Imperfection gives the songs soul. But the dealbreaker is Lauren Mayberry's keening vocals. Simultaneously delicate and powerful, they come coated in a thick Glasgow brogue, which gives me flashbacks to Clare Grogan and her 80s band, Altered Images.
Mayberry is immensely likeable, chattering away between songs, and warning fans she can see into the toilets from the stage. When the songs drift off into instrumental sections, she grabs a tambourine and windmills it around her in a way that suggests she'll grow into a superb frontwoman, given a little more time.
The set falters slightly on a cover of Prince's I Would Die 4U - or, presumably, I Would Die 4V. Not that it's a terrible version, or even a bad song choice, just that the band never quite capture the juddering nihilism of the original (for more on the band's Prince obsession, read this interview).
Things perk up after that, as Chvrches close the set with their two best songs - We Sink and The Mother We Share. After that, Lauren informs us she's off to book tickets for Bodyguard: The Musical, as the band are downing tools for the rest of the year.
They should enjoy the break. 2013's going to be busy.
It sounds obvious, but the best thing about being a drummer is that you get to hit things with sticks. As an hilariously stroppy teenager, I used to work out all sorts of tantrums ("maths is so stupid," "why would anyone want socks for Christmas," etc) by thwacking the snare drum until my hands went numb. Other kids just picked fights. I think my parents might have preferred that.
Now that I am older and emotionally stable (ahem), drumming is less of a crutch, and more of an obession. I could lose hours watching Buddy Rich or Steve Gadd or Sheila E showing off their skills on YouTube.
An even more recent fascination is watching drums being played in super-slow-motion. Look at the baffling way this cymbal disorts in the milliseconds after
the drumstick lands.
(It looks more impressive in motion, I promise)
The images are from Kemosabe - the latest video by Everything Everything, who are the current European champions of polyrhythmic, limb-entangling drum patterns. The single, from their forthcoming second album Arc, is probably their most straightforward song to date. But it still jumps around like a grasshopper on a hot plate. Have a listen.
The singer in the stunning picture above is called Queen of Hearts. She's a new artist you're bound to like -- as long as you share my taste in kooky female pop stars with practically no hope of mainstream success (cf Marina and the Diamonds, Lykke Li, Siobhan Donaghy, and the rest).
Here are the key facts.
:: Daily Express readers stand down: She is not named after Princess Diana.
:: Instead, the name "came about because I write songs about love – finding it, losing it, betrayal, etcetera," as she told Teez FM.
:: "I've always admired strong women," she added in an interview with XO Magazine. "I think it's such a sexy quality, so I wanted a name that encapsulated that".
:: The singer lives in posho West London suburb Chiswick, home to Ant and Dec, Colin Firth and Richard Briers (ask your dad).
:: I once saw Moira Stewart in the Chiswick branch of Sainsbury's.
:: She was buying a broccoli.
:: Queen of Hearts would like it to be known that her favourite attire is "statement jewellery, high necklines, leather and killer heels".
:: Speaking to Glam UK, she described her music as "electro-pop with an emotional twist".
:: "They are dance floor tunes but maybe you could shed a tear at the same time!" she continued.
:: Is the exclamation mark in that quote really necessary? It makes her sound deranged, like she's shouting "MAYBE YOU COULD SHED A TEAR" at the top of her voice with a demented grin while she threatens to disembowel your cat with a spoon made of noodles.
:: "If you buy my album, you have to love pop, because that's really what I'm all about," she professes.
:: To prove it, she's been recording with Stuart "I made Madonna's last decent album" Price.
:: However, he has nothing to do with her new single, Warrior.
:: It's still pretty good, though. A luscious, stylish pop gem with a floaty video filmed on a beach.
Crucially, as with all the best songs, it works just as well in stripped-back acoustic form as it does in the bells-and-whistles electropop version. Here's Queen Of Hearts (we don't know her real name, and nor should we) performing it on BBC Local Radio last week.
Warrior is out in December. Queen Of Hearts has a social media presence on Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook. How modern.
In fact, on any other occasion, Taylor Swift would have easily walked away with the "performance of the night" title. But then Pink turned up - doing the splits while balancing upside down on a man's shoulders, smashing a full-length mirror and covering herself in powder paint. Essentially a live recreation of the shocking, powerful video for Try, it'll make you do a standing ovation in the middle of your office.
If you enjoyed watching those, why not drop some money off at the Children In Need website? They make it incredibly easy, you know. The link is www.bbc.co.uk/pudsey
As a bonus treat for your generosity, here are a genuinely bewildered One Direction stumbling their way through a performance of Live While We're Young. I particularly enjoy the shambolic choreography after the second chorus (around 2'10").
2) DJ Fresh Direct - Mary-Kate and Ashley
Not to be confused with "Hot Right Now" hitmaker DJ Fresh, the similarly-monikered DJ Fresh Direct is a crate digger and remixer from New York. This track, built around a sample from Jay-Z and Kanye's N****s In Paris, is a triumph of deep groove.
3) Little Mix - I Will Wait
Ever wondered what Mumford & Sons would sound like if their songs were turned into John Lewis adverts? Well, wonder no more - because Little Mix have done all the legwork for you, turning I Will Wait into a soporific, string-soaked yawnfest. NB: A good antidote to this tedious Live Lounge performance is the instrumental version of the girls' new single DNA, which was circulated heavily online earlier this week (it's also available on iTunes). A masterclass in 21st Century machinepop production.
4) Jamie Lidell - What A Shame
English musician Lidell is a cohort of Beck, Feist and Chilly Gonzales, and achieved fleeting fame with the infectiously catchy soul track Multiply in 2005. Signed to Warp Records, he's an uncommonly straightforward artist for the headache-inducing dance label. That said, his new single scores 8/10 on the weird noise-ometer before settling into a syncopated, colourful melody in the chorus. Imagine Mark Ronson fed through a paper shredder and you'll get the idea.
5) Dot Rotten - Karmageddon
This is a little more reflective and, dare I say, more gospel than Dot Rotten's previous singles. A potential crossover hit? It's just been added to the Radio One playlist, so it's entirely possible.
I don't know what's worse - that Rihanna's back together with "changed man" Chris Brown, or the suggestion that she's not, but will enthusiastically expolit the controversy to sell some records.
Either way, it is really none of my business. Which, coincidentally, is the point of a new song she's recorded with Brown. With scant regard for grammar, it's called Nobodies Business and opens with the lyric: "You'll always be my boy, I'll always be your girl / Ain't nobody's business but mine and my baby."
If you can put aside your distaste for Rihanna singing the praises of her former abuser (and it's a big if) it's an incredibly catchy song.
Also of interest is the musical direction - ditching Rihanna's hard-as-nails club sound for a Steve "Silk" Hurley-inspired 90s house feel. Taking this and Diamonds into account, could Unapologetic be Rihanna's biggest pop album to date? We'll find out on Monday.
(Plus an alternate version, in case the first one disappears)
If you haven't already picked up The Weeknd's "new" album The Trilogy (it's essentially three mixtapes remastered and bundled together), you're in for a treat.
He's been called the future of R&B, but his late-night nihilism is never going to dominate wedding discos like, say, Stevie Wonder. No, The Trilogy is more like someone committed the voices of D'Angelo's inner demons to tape - troubled tales of indulgence and addiction over woozy, sinuous grooves.
If you've already digested the 30 tracks of The Trilogy and you're dying for more, here's a gold nugget in the shape of Wiz Khalifa's latest single. A dark (and essentially misogynist) story of a one-night stand who leaves the singer lusting for more, it's accompanied by one of the most unsettling videos of the year.
Earlier today, Girls Aloud "unveiled" (allowed someone to play) another song from their Greatest Hits album on Radio 2. But the reaction to Beautiful Cause You Love Me has not exactly been 100% positive. Let's look at the facts.
1) It's a ballad, traditionally the band's achilles heel. 2) Not written by Girls Aloud masterminds Xenomania. 3) "Empowering" message about being beautiful on the inside... 4) ...Sung without irony by five of the best-looking women in pop. 5) Essentially, not very good.
On the other hand, the song isn't a complete train-wreck.
1) Rhymes "basin" with "face in". 2) Nicola has the lion's share of the vocals. Nicola! 3) Miles better than I'll Stand By You. 4) Traces of Girls Aloud magic in "my baby" backing vocals. 5) Gets better with age, like a fine wine (or a broken rib).
FYI: The song was written by a relative newcomer called Maiday - whose previous credits include Wretch 32's Don't Go and Leona Lewis's Stop The Clocks. When she's not contributing underwhelming ballads to Girls Aloud projects, she's busy making an EP of her own - with contributions from Fraser T Smith and Josh Kumra. You can check out her solo material on this Soundcloud page.
Here's a nice performance video from earnest chanteuse Rebecca Ferguson, which serves to remind you that her album is still available if you can't think of anything to buy your mum for Christmas.
Shot in a posh recording "facility" in London, it sees the X Factor alumnus perform her don't-let-me-down enormo-ballad Shoulder To Shoulder. I love the breakdown where she sings "don't be my downfall".
Inspired by the Chop Socky martial arts flicks of the 1970s, the film features Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu and Pam Grier in a blood-drenched Chinese morality tale that has something to do with gold coins and a man who can turn his body into a sheet of metal (like Batfink). It is, by all accounts, as unhinged as it sounds.
But if you sit through to the closing credits, you get to hear RZA team up with The Black Keys for a song called The Baddest Man Alive. Riding a grubby B-movie groove, Dan Auerbach and the Wu-Tang Man drawl a couple of bleary verses about, well, being the baddest man alive ("I'll grab a crocodile by his hair," they suggest, implausibly).
Maybe it's not the genre-defying tour de force you'd hope for, but it's worth watching the video just to see RZA slap his collaborators with a big wet fish.
If you're in the middle of an all-consuming crush, Ingrid Michaelson's The Way I Am is the perfect song for you. Over a gummy double bass, the singer blushes her way through silly sentiments like, "I love the way you say 'good morning'". It's a miracle the song doesn't end with someone going "no you hang up first".
Released in 2008, The Way I Am was used in an advert for Old Navy clothing (there's a lyric about sweaters) and made the singer famous in the States. OK not exactly famous famous: Michaelson describes her status as "somewhere between Lady Gaga and the girl who hosts the open mic night at the coffee house".
But the song has taken on a life of it's own and, for years, fans excitedly approached the US singer to inform her The Way I Am was their wedding song.
And so she grew to hate it.
"What I began to hear was, 'we're getting married and you're going to die alone and your cats will eat your corpse,'" she deadpans.
Thankfully, Michaelson got married last year (to fellow musician Greg Laswell) and The Way I Am has been resurrected. It formed a central part of her warm-hearted set at London's Union Chapel last night. Cute, self-deprecating anecdotes like the one above peppered the show, in which Michaelson was backed by just two musicians - Allie Moss and Bess Rogers - whose harmonies were as heavenly as the setting.
On records, the singer (who refuses to sign to a major label) has often been suffocated by pillowy production, but in this environment she shone. Even the ridiculously twee psychobabble of Be OK sounded fresh and energised. During Ghost, Michaelson's vocals sounded more broken and desolate than ever before. "When I first played this to my mom," the singer recalled, "she asked if I was ok". You could see why.
The audience loved this stripped-back, exposed approach. There was even a genuine "we want more" encore - during which Michaelson played Elvis's Can't Help Falling In Love, inviting the crowd to sing the hook. Like the rest of the gig, it was generous, inclusive and full of quirky charm.
I'm pretty certain a few people stumbled into the bitter night with a Ready Brek glow.
A semi-regular round-up of videos and songs I haven't had the time or inclination to write about during the last seven days... This week's cover stars are.
1) Ke$ha - Die Young
A great chorus let down by a "rap" that is the sound of a thousand nails on a thousands blackboards processed by a broken auto-tune box.
I particularly like how, in the narrative of the video, the produce placement results in Ke$ha's downfall. "We made it South of the Border" she texts on her shiny new phone - leading the cops straight to her door. Idiot.
2) The Staves - Dead & Born & Grown
This is the title track of the Staveley sisters' debut album, which is out on Monday. I beseech you to buy it (here's a link) - you'll fall in love with it slowly, but irrevocably, and that's a guarantee.
3) Josh Kumra - Waiting For You
You might not know his name, but you'll recognise the voice from Wretch 32's number one single Don't Go last year. Josh Kumra's solo debut is very much in the Ben Howard / Ed Sheeran sensitive-boy-with-a-guitar "genre" - but the sumptuous backing vocals and insistent drums will win you over despite it all.
4) Two Door Cinema Club - Sun (Alex Metric remix)
With their roots on the Kistuné label, Two Door Cinema Club have always been up for a good old club makeover. Their new single is no exception - Alex Metric takes a rather weedy track and soups it up with scratchy hip-hop loops and laser-blast synths that can only be described as "twiddly".
5) Icona Pop - I Love It (feat Charli XCX)
I'm massively behind the curve here, because Icona Pop have been cropping up on my Twitter feeds and pop alerts for months and I never quite got round to checking them out. What did it take to spark my interest? A computer game...
I Love It, which originally premiered in May, features on the excellent soundtrack to racing game Need For Speed: Most Wanted, produced down in Guildford by Criterion Games (creators of the Burnout series, for racing fans). It sounds INCREDIBLE in surround sound, as does the woofer-straining Killsonik remix of Calvin Harris's We'll Be Coming Back.
Sadly, the song isn't out in the UK yet... So you'll have to buy the game if you want to hear it outside the confines of YouTube. My PS3 ID is (somewhat predictably) mrdiscopop if you fancy a race over the weekend.
This is simply gorgeous: Jessie Ware puts her soulful spin on Brownstone's '90s R&B classic If You Love Me. Moody and mournful, it shows how badly a great tune was being drowned out by the original's New Jack Swing drum clatter.
Production comes from a new production duo called BenZel - two teenagers who hail from Osaka, Japan but live in New York, New York. They only set up their Twitter account last night, so this track is clearly meant as a calling card. One particularly nice touch is that they've sampled the original 1994 backing vocals in the chorus.
The video, meanwhile, was entirely filmed in a Lava Lamp.
The RAC, like their rescue service namesake, are experts at tinkering under the bonnet. Except they do repair work on songs, not cars. In the past, they've jacked up Radiohead, given Ellie Goulding an oil change and polished Dragonette's hub caps.
With more than 150 mixes to their name, the band (actually an international co-op of producers called the Remix Artist Collective) have a surprisingly consistent hit rate.
They avoid the Tony Lamezma / Freemasons tactic of slapping a honking great club beat on top of a vocal and ramping up the BPMs (not that there's anything wrong with that, of course). Their mixes are more sympathetic to the source material - with new arrangements and funky drum loops gently herding the music in the general direction of the dancefloor.
If you haven't come across them before, help is at hand, as they've collected 19 of their best mixes onto a new album - which you can stream below.
HOWEVER - there more than are a few criminal ommissions from that tracklist. I suggest you grab the following tracks (some are available for free on SoundCloud, others require a visit to your local download store) and tack them on to the end.
1) Robyn - Cobrastyle
2) Kings Of Leon - Use Somebody
3) Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Zero
4) Lana Del Rey - Blue Jeans
This one is actually on the album but it's missing from the streaming version for "legal reasons". And it's worth the price of admission alone.
Indie bands are their own worst enemies. How do you tell a Django from a Maccabee? Why are the Mystery Jets shrouded in... er, mystery? Which one is Noah and which one is the whale? Neither of them. What?!
Let's face it, if you want people to know who you are, you have to have a "thing". Mick Jagger has stupid lips. John Lydon a grisly snarl. The Arcade Fire look like a crack den Addams Family. It all helps.
I know what the indie mafia will say. "We're not trying to be Lady Gaga," and "we just want the music to speak for itself, dudes". Well, bollocks to that. I want a band to have a consistent visual identity, and I don't want that identity to be "here are some skinny jeans and a t-shirt I found in a cupboard".
Case in point: The Foals. That's them standing in some dustbins at the top of the page. Over the years they've made some excellent music (Miami, Cassius) but I couldn't pick them out of a line-up, even if the line-up comprised of the band and four actual foals.
As part of their continuing quest for anonymity, the band barely feature in their latest video - Inhaler. Instead, they have brought in some street dancers (the video director's cliche of choice in 2012) and some gratuitous nudity.
The song, however, is magnificent. Tight, rhythmical and funky, it suddenly rips into an ALMIGHTY RIFF after the first chorus.
You might even remember who they are by the end of it.
They've been called "the dubstep Coldplay" – but before you run to the larder and stuff your ears full of butter, give Seasfire a chance (as John Lennon probably once didn't say).
The band describe themselves as "4am melancholy, drifting pianos and desolate songs of heartbreak from the shadows of Bristol", and that pretty much nails it on the head. Like their Bristolian counterparts Massive Attack and Portishead, they make great use of silence and space to draw you in to their ghostly sonic embrace.
Formed over a number of years at school and college, the quartet only started writing in earnest in July 2011. But they've done incredibly well since – their last single, Falling, made the BBC Introducing playlist, and they were asked to remix Lana Del Rey's National Anthem. So they did.
Seasfire cite Echo and the Bunnymen, Burial and Jeff Buckley among their influences, but there's clearly a debt to the minimalist soundscapes of James Blake and Radiohead in there, too.
Their new single is called We Will Wake and it's surprisingly perky despite clocking in at a sluggish 82bpm. The chorus in particular sparkles like a roman candle. Very highly recommended.
In the YouTube era, music videos should be stark and simple. Don't clutter the frame, choose primary colours, and pack the screen with tightly-cropped close-ups of the performers. That makes everything easy to follow, no matter what size your screen or what speed your your internet connection.
Never one to cling to convention, Feist has made a video that will be almost impossible to watch on your phone.
It's so lo-fi and grainy you could mistake it for a Ukranian pop programme at the height of the Cold War. All you see is a bunch of stick figures in a forest, shot from the safe distance of two miles away, for fear that the potent sexuality of rock and roll might send the nation's youth into a foaming frenzy of furtive frotting.
There are also some animated crows, and the biggest saxophone you have ever seen in your life.
Of course, because it's Feist, there is a REALLY DEEP THOUGHT behind the austere aesthetic and, cunningly, it links in to the song's title, Graveyard. Here she is to tell us all about it:
"I'm not talking about the Graveyard as a location, but of the entangled thoughts you get when visiting a graveyard. Usually you're there to visit someone who's died, and you think in broad terms about what they've become and your own mortality and about what time means. We're alone in the field, always at a distance. And people appear and disappear from your life."
Wow. She must be a right laugh at dinner parties. "Hey, this pasta is shaped like a spiral. Have you ever thought how life is like a spiral and we're all just sliding down it to our inevitable death, like a fusilli helter skelter of mortality?"
Luckily, she makes wonderful music. Including this song. So all is forgiven.
Unbelievers, as you may have deciphered from the title, has an appropriately spiritual theme for its Hallowe'en debut. Singer Ezra Koenig seems to be struggling with the BIG QUESTIONS of FAITH and REDEMPTION. "If I'm born again, I know the world will disagree," he sings, suggesting a flirtation with religion.
But by the chorus, it seems he's decided not to go 100% Bono: "We know the fire awaits unbelievers / All of the sinners the same / Girl you and I will die unbelievers bound to the tracks of the train."
I thought atheists were more likely to struck down by lightning and sentenced to eternal damnation in hell. But maybe Koenig has studied the texts more closely than me and God is, in fact, the villain from a Charlie Chaplin movie.
If you only listen to one artist with stuffed toys growing out of her ears today, it should be this one...
Charli XCX has barely been off my iPod since I first wrote about her spine-tingling Only One single back in July. Now she's back with a new song called Cloud Aura.
As the title suggests, it's a hazy pop concoction dusted with floaty cotton candy backing vocals. But XCX is cleverer than your average pop starlet, and rips the whole thing apart with a big rasping organ (you there, stop sniggering at the back - Ed) and a spiky rap from "internet personality" Brooke Candy.
You can download it FOR ZERO PENCE on 7 November by signing up for Charli's forthcoming Super Ultra Mixtape via her official website. I expect it's all a scam to get your credit card details and buy a Lamborghini, though.