Monday, September 30, 2013

"They dream about being Mumford and Sons"

Odder than a teapot full of spam balls, here's a 22-minute performance video from Arcade Fire.

Shot by Roman Coppola in Montreal's tiny Salsatheque venue, it features three new songs as well as a lounge version of Wake Up, for which the band dress up as Duran Duran. No, really.

Superbad star Michael Cera cameos as the venue's barman, who'd rather be watching Michael Buble and says Arcade Fire will never be as good as Mumford And Sons.

There are further guest spots from James Franco, Ben Stiller, Bono and an irate Zach Galifianakis. "I went to one of your first shows," he shouts at Win Butler in a video link from 'outer space'.

"There were more people on stage than there were in the audience. YOU DON'T NEED THREE DRUMMERS."

Well, quite.

Incidentally, the new songs - Here Comes The Night Time, We Exist and Normal Person - sound fantastic, incorporating new styles (reggae! new wave!) into the band's arsenal of anthemic indie rock.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

The many faces of Cher Lloyd and six other songs you may have missed

A semi-regular summary of songs that almost slipped through the net, and the reasons why they shouldn't be ignored.

1) Cher Lloyd - I Wish
Believe it or not, all those screengrabs at the top of the post come from the first 60 seconds of the video. Nice chorus, though.

2) Chase & Status - Count On Me (ft Moko)
AKA Blind Faith part II, Count On Me is the best song the 1990s never had. Featuring the drum loop from Back By Dope Demand, and a diva with bigger pipes than a storm drain, this should come with a free Global Hypercolor t-shirt.

3) Rizzle Kicks - Skip To The Good Bit (lyric video)
Because what EMF's Unbelievable was missing was a trumpet.

4) Mooli - Automatic
Endorsed by Sir Michael Caine (really), Mooli are Ben Copland and Kristina Smith. In a previous life, Ben wrote songs for Liberty X and Aaron Carter, but don't hold that against him. His new project is all spangly synthpop with a droopy sadface. And, as any fool knows, that's the best sort of synthpop there is.

5) Hugh Laurie and Jools Holland - Piano duet
The excruciating boogie-woogie piano interludes are generally the low-point of Jools Holland's Later show (unless the Stereophonics are on it again) but this quad-handed blues duet with Hugh Laurie is guaranteed to put a smile on anyone's face. Better than a cat video, and that's a guarantee.

6) Chvrches - It's Not Right, But It's Okay
Out this week, Chvrches debut album is a splendiferous affair (although you can totally skip the ones where the bloke sings). To cap it all, they've been in Radio 1's Live Lounge, covering Whitney Houston's second-best song after My Name Is Not Susan.

7) Kelis - Been Given A Morning
Kelis's husky, dusty voice is clearly suited to ballads, so it's a shame that she's never been given a decent one to sing... Until now. Culled from her recent sessions with Dave Sitek, Been Given A Morning is a sombre, jazzy torch song, doused in kerosene and set alight in its dying moments.

On the evidence of this and Jerk Ribs, which came out in April, Kelis's forthcoming album is going to be the reinvention of the year.

And that's it for this week... See you on Monday for more.

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Cheque this out: A high interest rate in Banks*

"The most plainly obvious pop star you’re ever likely to see."

That's how Vice Magazine described Banks, within 10 seconds of meeting her earlier this year. The LA singer-songwriter is certainly rather special: The sort of person who who puts her actual cellphone number on her Facebook page (it's really real).

Banks is her surname - her friends call her Jillian. She started making music aged 15, when a friend gave her a toy keyboard to distract her during "a tough time" with her family ("parents fighting, being alone in the house"). Expressing her fear and loneliness through music helped her cope. "I became addicted ever since," she told Billboard.

For years, she kept her music private, "because it was such an outlet for me". She enrolled in university, earning a bachelor's degree in psychology. Then she took a deep breath and uploaded a song to Soundcloud.

Brooding and bruised, the darkly dealt R&B of Before I Ever Met You ("I never knew I could be broken in so many ways") was played a quarter of a million times before it got an official release at the start of the year.

Banks has put out a couple more tracks since, of which the seductive Warm Water is the definite highlight. People have compared it to Lana Del Rey - and the two artists certainly share a femme fatale quality, but there's also a fragile intimacy to Banks's music that Del Rey never quite achieves.

"I definitely want [my music] to be really cinematic; I want you to be able to visualize things while you're listening to it," she told Interview Magazine. "I just want everything to be moody — I want it to affect people."

The 25-year-old spent the summer in the UK recording new music (and performing her first ever gig), which resulted in the London EP, which was quietly released onto iTunes a fortnight ago.

The lead track is This Is What It Feels Like. Understated and beautiful, it's the sound of the ghost in the machine - if the machine was Frank Ocean's laptop. The video ("made possible by Garnier Fructis") was premiered on Noisey's YouTube channel last night, and finds Banks loitering in a kitchen during a calamitous storm. At least, I think it's a storm. It might just be Joey's rainy window from Friends. Either way: Brilliant.

Banks - This Is What It Feels Like

* sorry

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Charli XCX has a new single and it's a bloody good pop song

Remember what I was saying on Tuesday about pop stars needing to be likeable? Well here's Charli XCX, an artist who's sometimes come across as distant and cold, throwing caution to the wind with a breezy, accessible new look. She even smiles in the video.

Superlove is "a completely new vibe," the singer admitted to Digital Spy earlier this month. "I wrote the song the same week as [Icona Pop's] I Love It. Let's just say I was in a similar mind frame!"

If you liked Charli's debut album True Romance, which came out earlier this year, you're going to love this: From the sugar-spun chorus to the gratuitously stupid "in da club" reference. And if that's not enough for you, Charli deploys pop's secret weapon: The double handclap. Amazing.


Charli XCX - Superlove

Superlove isn't out until 1 December, which seems mad, but there you go.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Haim cover Miley Cyrus in the Live Lounge

Five days before their debut album comes out, Haim paid a visit to Radio 1's Live Lounge for a timely spot of promo. They were tweeted live on air by Isaac "Mmmbop" Hanson, prompting Este to disclose the fact she and Taylor Hanson share a birthday: 14th March, or 3.14 if you're American.

"It's Pi day," she noted. "And I do eat pies on my birthday." Maybe you had to be there.

Getting down to business, the trio knocked off their current single, The Wire, before ploughing headlong into a jittery cover of Miley's Wrecking Ball. "We're not afraid to say we love Miley," noted Alana.

It may not be perfect, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. Listen below.

PS: There are loads of shots of the session over on the Radio 1 website, including this one of the band's lyrics cribsheet.

EDIT: Here's the video.

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Drake unveils shooty bang bang Hold On video

Drake's Hold On We're Going Home is by far the best thing he's recorded, which is a strange thing to say given that it sounds exactly like every other Drake single ever released. But there's something about those dreamy synths and barely-there vocals that just works this time around.

The video popped up online last night, and it's a seven-minute, Miami Vice-inspired, crime-ridden, gun-toting kidnap-and-revenge tale [that's quite enough, hyphenation ed]. Drake, who started off his career in Degrassi Junior High discussed the clip with MTV News thus:

"Bill Pope, who directed The Matrix1, directed the video. Basically it's a video full of acting2 because I'm dying to get back into acting.

"I based it off of some of the old Michael Jackson videos like Moonwalker3. So it's sort of exciting, violent a little and scary a little4."

1) The Wachowski Brothers directed The Matrix.
2) Mostly people firing guns.
3) Moonwalker was a film, not a video.
4) About as scary as a Calippo.

Petty gripes aside, this is a visually-stunning mini movie. Worth watching full-screen with a bag of popcorn.

Drake - Hold On We're Going Home

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Why pop stars need to be likeable

Remember the Lady Gaga vs Katy Perry chart battle? It only happened three weeks ago, but that was before Miley Cyrus stuck her bum in the air and her tongue in a camera, and pop imploded.

So if you've forgotten, here's what happened: Applause and Roar were released in the same week, after a leak prompted Gaga to bring her single forward. Then Katy Perry won - massively.

In fact, Roar outsold Applause by a factor of 2:1 in the US.

People were surprised - but Buzzfeed's Matthew Perpetua had a fantastically insightful, concise explanation.

Part of the reason Gaga’s song is leaving audiences cold is because, like most of her material, the song is entirely about being Lady Gaga. To fully enjoy Applause you need to buy into her stardom and be invested in her increasingly elaborate mythology.

Perry’s Roar, on the other hand, is a thoroughly generic song about self-affirmation and triumph over adversity, and though you can map the details of her personal life on to it, it’s just as easy to imagine the song being about you. Perry consistently aims for universal sentiments in her songs, and this is a big part of why she’s had significantly more success on the charts. Her hits have less cultural baggage, and far more utility.

It seems so simple, doesn't it? Be likeable. Be relatable. But artist after artist gets it wrong.

Perhaps it's not their fault. We're trained, in a post-Madonna era, to think that pop should be edgy, shocking, exciting. But it's easy to forget Madonna's career hit rock bottom when she extrapolated the success of Justify My Love (naughty, sexy) into Erotica (joyless, debauched).

A colleague at Radio One told me last week that they have trouble playing Ke$ha's music because her trashy image "puts off" a large section of their audience. That's not just an assumption - the station relentlessly tests its playlist with focus groups of real listeners. So when their drivetime host Greg James calls Miley Cyrus "ludicrous", you have to wonder if he's been getting similar feedback on her latest career moves.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the Not The One - the new release from indie-pop kid, and Capitol Records signing, Sky Ferreira.

The song is absolutely excellent: A gritty, scuzzy electro-pop smash, with a guitar line chopped out of Duran Duran's Girls On Film. But she looks unkempt, stand-offish and wasted. She stabs a man in her video. And, with appalling timing, she's just been arrested on suspicion of possession of controlled substances.

The arrest aside, it all seems calculated to make her seem "cool" but instead she comes off as haughty and unlikeable. I hope I'm wrong and Sky, who has a truckload of pop gems in her possession, can sustain a mainstream career. After all, Rihanna shows it's possible to combine rebellion with mass appeal (although I still find her a difficult person to warm to). But somehow, sadly, I doubt it's going to happen.

Sky Ferreira - Not The One

PS: I know all of the examples above are female - but the argument applies equally well to Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke. Their lyrics are broadly similar (ie misogynist), but Thicke comes off like a creepy sexpest, while JT does everything with a cheeky tip of the hat. The point stands: People want pop stars they can relate to.

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Little Mix premiere new single Move

Little Mix could have played it safe after the success of Wings in the UK and US. They could have become a regimented R&B girl band, with harmonies tighter than their outfits. But no. They've done the other thing: Gone completely bananas.

Move, their new single, is a shapeshifting clusterbomb of audacious hooks and lip-smacking vocal parps. "We started with sounds. Just making loads of little quirky noises," Jade told Radio One. "It was a bit weird actually, but we are a bit weird anyway."

It shouldn't work. It doesn't make sense. The build-up to the first chorus ends with the second verse. They try to seduce a "hot boy" by calling him a "big baby". There is frankly too much cowbell.

And yet. And yet. And yet...

Like Girls Aloud at their best, Move throws the pop rulebook out the window, drives a steamroller over it, shreds it, feeds it to an octopus, feeds the octopus to a shark and makes the shark write the chorus on a harpsichord. It's brave and it's clever and it's really rather good.


Little Mix - Move


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Friday, September 20, 2013

R Kelly is a sex genius, and six other songs you may have missed

A semi-regular round-up of The Music Of The Internet, which may otherwise have escaped your attention over the last seven days.

1) R Kelly - Genius
"Tonight you're lying with a sex genius," purrs the ever-classy R Kelly from beneath the silken sheets of his circular waterbed. "We're both so freakin' hot, we don't wanna freakin' stop." Damn.

Things to ponder while you listen to this:
:: More than 10,000 people have signed a petition to have Ignition (Remix) made the US National Anthem
:: R Kelly's new album is called Black Panties.

2) Katy B - 5am
Katy is back where Katy should be: On the dancefloor, where "that beat's so sick, that tune's so ill". Also, the melody has a temperature and the bassline has a hurty elbow.

3) Kanye West - Bound 2 (live on Jools Holland)
The absolute best YouTube comment on this performance came in the form of a response to a cretin who accused Kanye of having "no talent" and "just speaking into a microphone whilst doing silly moves".

"You do it then," spat the reply. "I'm fucking serious... What's so good about speaking into a microphone? All that F1 drivers do is drive in circles. All that footballers do is kick a ball around. All that surgeons do is cut people open and remove stuff... It's not though, is it?"

I think Kanye might have written that himself. Presumably while a BBC employee ironed his carpet.

4) Prides - Out Of The Blue
Angular synth-pop, endorsed by CHVRCHES, with whom they share some DNA. Of course, we all share some DNA with CHVRCHES. We share 50% of our DNA with a banana. That's just science.

5) Katy Perry - Roar (Rock remix)
It's not clear if this is an official reworking or a clever bootleg, but Perry's Roar sounds surprisingly awesome with additional plank spanking. The best Blink 182 song you've never heard.

6) James Arthur - You're Nobody Til Somebody Loves You
Helpfully abbreviated to YNTSLY by his record label, this is X Factor winner James Arthur's first "proper single" after last year's number one Impossible. With brittle horn stabs and a dustbins-in-a-hurricane drum track, it's a good effort in a post-Rudimental sort of way.

The only problem is his vocal - he starts off with such an almighty "I'm a proper singer" roar that there's nowhere left to go for the next four minutes. The result is a track that blusters instead of blowing you away.

7) Justin Timberlake - TKO
Bring the beatbox back! Posted late last night, this Timbaland-heavy single is the second release from JT's much-anticipated 20/20 Experience Volume Two.

If you think the scratchy, sinister groove is a little heavier than the singles from Volume One, you'd be right. "The songs that I released in March just reminded me of summertime," he told On Air with Ryan Seacrest. "The songs that are coming out this month felt a little darker so they made me feel like... the fall/winter collection."

And that's all for now... Have a great weekend, and send any tips for next week's roundup to the address at the bottom of the page!

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Here's a jangly indie-pop song you might like

Everyone say hello to Honeyblood, a Glaswegian garage duo with a nice line in knitted hats.

They are Stina Tweeddale and Shona McVicar, aka "short and shorter" (their description). A stripped-back guitar'n'drums combo, they're essentially The White Stripes without all the testosterone and sexual tension.

So far, they've only had one release, No Spare Key, on a blood red cassette tape that sold out months ago. All traces of the song have, rather excitingly, disappeared from the internet in the meantime.

But their first vinyl single, the short-and-sweet Bud, is coming out on FatCat records next month. Produced by Rory Attwell (Palma Violets, Veronica Falls), the duo have described it as "crunchpop". It's a little bittersweet, but if you're a fan of The Breeders, Best Coast or Juliana Hatfield, you'll find it to your taste.

I can't get enough of it.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

New video: Solange - Lovers In The Parking Lot

Solange's beautiful True EP is nearly 10 months old, which is a perfect excuse to revisit it's seven tracks of sultry, sexy soul.

To get you in the mood, Ms Knowles has released a video for the standout* track Lovers In The Parking Lot, in which she dances around an abandoned video arcade in an array of fashions previously worn by the audience for Going Live with Philip Schofield and Sarah Green.

Solange - Lovers In The Parking Lot

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Perfunctory blog update #1: Here is a new video by Daft Punk

On Saturday night, Chic & Nile Rodgers played the iTunes Festival in London's Roundhouse. It was an astonishingly great show, which you can watch in full on iTunes or any of your Apple-branded products. What you don't see is that everyone spent the entire night whispering "do you think they'll play Get Lucky?"

They didn't - but instead of an encore, the band played the track through the speakers and just gadded around on stage taking photos of each other and the audience. It was quite lovely.

But if you want to imagine what a live hook-up between Daft Punk and Chic would be like, then look no further: Those hilarious French robots have finally completed a video for Lose Yourself To Dance. It's basically a less interesting version of Lenny Kravitz's Are You Gonna Go My Way, with worse hair.

Daft Punk - Lose Yourself To Dance

Disappointing. But the promo imagefor the single, based on Drew Struzan's iconic Star Wars posters, is amazing.

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Perfunctory blog update #2: Here is a new song by the Killers

Shot At The Night is a new song by the Killers and M83 (you know the ones who did that Hah-hoo Hoo-hah song). Taken from the band's 10th Anniversary Best Of collection, it finds Brandon and the other equally-important ones in mid-tempo anthemic mode. It's rather good.

The Killers - Shot At The Night

Out in November, the "Direct Hits" compilation has a pretty amazing tracklist. A deluxe edition comes with DVDs and five 10″ vinyl records with all the tracks on them again, for some reason.

Direct Hits Tracklist:
01. Mr. Brightside
02. Somebody Told Me
03. Smile Like You Mean It
04. All These Things That I’ve Done
05. When You Were Young
06. Read My Mind
07. For Reasons Unknown
08. Human
09. Spaceman
10. A Dustland Fairytale
11. Runaways
12. Miss Atomic Bomb
13. The Way It Was
14. Shot At the Night
15. Just Another Girl
16. Mr. Brightside (Original Demo) - deluxe edition
17. When You Were Young (Calvin Harris Remix) - deluxe edition
18. Be Still - deluxe edition

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Work Bitch: Five things Britney's doing on her comeback single

1) Saying, "I'm back"
Work Bitch is an event single. A scene-setter. An ice-breaker. A fanfare. A statement of intent. It is not designed to be an airplay hit (the constant repetition of the word "bitch" should be your first clue there) or a vital component of Britney's impressive back catalogue. No matter whether you love it or hate it, you've noticed it, and that's the whole point.

2) Showing everyone who's boss
The lyrics aren't going to win anyone a Pulitzer Prize but Britney's message is pretty clear: "I worked hard to get where I am, and I'm not about to relinquish my crown". You want what she's got? Well, you'd better put in the hours. What's more, she's older and wiser than the girl who sang Piece Of Me six years ago. Back then, it was all defiant resilience; now she concedes that the suffering was partially self-inflicted. Basically, it's the 2013 update of this speech:

3) Not really singing that much
To be fair, there's less autotune than you'd expect, and Britney covers an entire octave over the course of the song. But the main motif is a repetitive leap between two notes (E4 and B4, music nerds) and there's a lot of talky bits. Speaking of which...

4) Doing her comedy British accent
Chim-chimeree baby one more time. Lorks-a-lummee!

5) Working with

At heart, Work Bitch is a great throwaway dance single. Much, much better than you'd expect from that production credit, and the "call the guv-ah-nah" line is demented genius. It'll be as hard to escape as Scream and Shout was earlier this year - but easy to walk away from once all the fuss dies down.

More importantly, Work Bitch heralds a Britney Spears album that features collaborations with William Orbit, Naughty Boy, Sia and Charli XCX. As abrasive and attention-seeking as the single may be / definitely is, there are some solid gold pop nuggets heading your way.


Britney Spears - Work Bitch

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Broody brunette pop bonanza

Blondes have more fun, but brunettes make better music... when it comes to sultry minor-key pop, at least.

New Zealander Lorde (above left, asleep in a field) has been challenging Katy Perry and Robin Thicke for supremacy in the US charts. Her single Royals, a bone dry outsiders' anthem, is sitting at number three - a rare feat for a non-American artist, never mind a teenager.

You'd think her fellow countrymen would be proud - but Kiwi critic Simon Sweetman posted an extraordinary (but entertaining) rant about the singer earlier this week. "This is a scam," he wrote. "She made this music in her bedroom at home – alone, went the original lie. The real truth is her parents were married at Universal Music’s headquarters located in the burning fires of hell somewhere and all the expenses were paid for them, Neil Finn played at the ceremony at half his usual fee. All they had to do was give up their daughter. And they did."

Lorde - Royals

Whoa! Hold your horses, there, Simon.

Admittedly, it took a while for people to reveal that Lorde spent three years under an artist development contract at a major label. But the information was out there for anyone willing to look hard enough. And all you really had to do was scan the writing credits to discover she wasn't some genius pop maverick crafting songs out of gossamer strands she'd plucked from the air in her teenage bedroom. So was it all a scam, or just shoddy journalism?

And no matter what you think of the music industry machinations or the tedious "story behind the hype", you have to admit Lorde's vocals and production are strikingly unique. The songs are catchy, too. What more do you need? Authenticity? Because I don't have enough yawns to endure that argument all over again.

Lorde's response to this mauling, by the way, was smart, classy and to the point.

"Let em talk," she wrote on Twitter. That's a proper pop star reaction, and no mistake.

Royals isn't out in the UK til October, but Lorde posted the follow-up to YouTube last night. Team is a spiritual sequel, celebrating the people and postcodes ignored by the mainstream. "We live in cities, you never see on the screen," broods the singer. "Not very pretty but we sure know how to run things."

It's great stuff.

Lorde - Team

On the other end of the controversy scale is Clare Maguire. A former BBC Sound Of nominee, she was tipped for great things but her histrionic power ballads never really connected with... well, anyone.

I've already written about her reinvention as a breathy balladeer. Earlier this year, she posted a clutch of gorgeous, mellow new songs - barely demos, really - that would break your heart sooner than look at you.

In her latest, Maguire is more ballbuster than heartbreaker, giving a furious kiss-off to a cheating boyfriend. From the "screw you" delivery, you get the impression he's going to take the break-up a lot worse than she is.

Little White Lies ups the tempo from her earlier material, with the staccato 80s production conjuring up both Pat Benatar and INXS. It'll get under your skin in the best possible way.

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Songs you may have missed - end of summer edition

A semi-regular round-up of songs that may have otherwise slipped through the cracks. This week's line-up goes a little something like this...

1) Eminem - Bezerk
This bears repeated viewing. Not just for the cameos (Kendrick Lamar, Kid Rock, Rick Rubin) or the footage of Billy Squier playing The Stroke (which Eminem samples) - but for the little nods to videos by the Beastie Boys, Pharcyde and even Back To The Future. Oh, and the song's not bad either.

2) Ellie Goulding - How Long Will I Love You
Ellie in drippy ballad mode this week, mooching around on the beach and bleating on about her brilliant boyfriend. Still, it's always nice to hear her gorgeous voice, stripped of all the parps and fzzbrts of her dance tracks.

NB: Ellie is also responsible for my favourite tweet of the week.

3) Little Daylight - Glitter and Gold (Charli XCX remix)
Pop brat Charli XCX gets her sticky fingers all over this summer jam from Brooklyn's Little Daylight. She slows it down and slaps glitchy lo-fi handclaps all over the top. It's definitive.

4) Au Revoir Simone - Crazy
If it weren't for Arcade Fire, this would be the video of the week: Dream-pop trio Au Revoir Simone remaking Martin Scorsese's surreal, under-rated After Hours in the form of a three-minute pop video.

The band take on roles originally played by Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette and Linda Fiorentino, and make a brief appearance in person. There's a superb attention to detail - right down to the film grain - but I'm not 100% convinced by the song.

5) Miguel - Can't Sleep 2Gether
Pants-obsessed R&B pervmeister Miguel is at it again. "I can't sleep / You can't sleep / Let's can't sleep together" he squeals, over a slow, lusty guitar groove. He'd be better off with a good book.

6) Janelle Monaé - Dance Apocalyptic (Live on Letterman)
Now this is how you go about performing on a chat show.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Kings Of Leon cover Robyn

There's no way I was letting this one pass without comment. Kings Of Leon, sodden with reverb, vamping through Robyn's Dancing On My own as though it was the last song of the last night on earth and they were downing shots in a spit-and-sawdust saloon on the precipice of eternity.

It is literally quite good.

Kings Of Leon - Dancing On My Own (Live Lounge cover)

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"Miley and hammers up a tree"

Maybe she's got anaemia, because Miley Cyrus is vigorously licking an iron hammer in her video for Wrecking Ball. It's another outing for her freakishly large tongue, which has been hanging out of Miley's mouth like an unwanted sock on a washing line for the best part of a month.

As other websites have pointed out, the 20-year-old is also "naked" and "straddling" a demolition ball in the clip, in scenes which are no worse than a Rihanna video, but which will attract vituperous abuse because Miley has become a poster-girl for unnecessary crudity after that MTV performance.

The sad thing is this song didn't need any controversy to sell it. Unlike the try-hard We Won't Stop, Wrecking Ball is a full-throated declamation of pop angst. It was written by music mastermind Dr Luke, but the crashing drums and towering chorus could be the work of Ryan Tedder in full-on power ballad mode. Rank it alongside Halo and Battlefield, and try to forget about Miley's bottom.

Miley Cyrus - Wrecking Ball

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Monday, September 9, 2013

Big tune - Arcade Fire: Reflektor

You know what you're getting with Arcade Fire, right? An overwhelming sense of angst and doom, a madman rending his garments in an on-stage maelstrom, screams, shouts, tunes that won't leave your brain for days, something about sinister small-town life and plentiful acreage of forehead.

Wrong (except the forehead bit, that's a given).

Their new single, Reflektor, is taut and sharp - with more than a hint of disco-era Blondie, especially in its Francophone verses ("entre le nuit," coos Regine Chassagne). Its closest relative is The Sprawl II, an album track from The Suburbs which the band said was inspired by Depeche Mode.

But it goes further than that slight pop melody ever did - with shimmering Moroder synth sweeps and an unmistakable David Bowie cameo on the lines: "Thought you were praying to the resurrector / turns out it was just a Reflektor". (The lyrics were generated by putting Justin Timberlake's Mirrors into Google Translate and selecting the "Arcade Fire" option).

Produced by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, Reflektor cautiously adds a few dance flourishes to the band's traditional sound, but also reigns in their more grandiose tendencies, giving the track room to breathe and build over an expansive seven minutes.

It's superb stuff - and available via an interactive video on the band's website If you don't have time for that, play the trailer below, and imagine it all in your mind.

Update: The official video is below.

Arcade Fire - Reflektor

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

A spotter's guide to Katy Perry's Roar video

Katy Perry's Roar is one of the most effortlessly great pop songs of the year.

Earlier this week, it deposed Robin Thicke from the top of the US chart. Now its heading for number one in the UK, too. In fact, it looks set to become one of the fastest-selling singles of the year, shifting 103,000 copies by midnight on Wednesday, according to the Official Charts.

So what better time to unveil the jungle-themed video?

There's a lot of wildlife to take in, so I've put together a comprehensive scientific guide to help you identify all the species.

A Capuchin Monkey (cebus albifrons)

An Indian Hornbill (buceros bicornis)

A Rubber Crocodile (crocodylus crappus)

A Bengal Tiger (panthera tigris)

A Sex Pest Elephant (proboscidea vulgaris)

A Macaw & Macaque
(Forget the Latin, this would make an excellent band name)

A Swarm of Fireflies (elateroidea lampyridae)

A Stone Cold Fox (foxalicious tremenjus)

BOOM! Did you see what I did with that last one????!!!!! I mean, did you?!!!

...Er, you did, didn't you? Sorry about that.

*Hangs head in shame* Here's the video.

Katy Perry - Roar

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What does The Fox say?

The Fox by Norwegian band Ylvis* is surely this year's Gangnam Style. It's produced by Stargate, it's had 250,000 views on YouTube since Tuesday... And Twitter is already head-over-heels in love.

So, brace yourselves. Here it comes.

Ylvis - The Fox

* Actually, they're a comedy troupe who present Hole In The Wall on Norwegian telly

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Who are Vaults?

Call Scooby Doo and the gang – we've got a mystery on our hands.

There's a band called Vaults. They have one song, Cry No More. On Tuesday, they posted it on Twitter, in their first and only tweet, to 107 followers.


Click on the link, and you go to their website – which contains a single letter "V" and the song itself. Over on Facebook, the song has a grand total of 39 likes.

And that's pretty much all we know. Search for the band on Google and you come across totally rad US cover band "The Vault Band" who play everything "from Creedance [sic] to AC/DC". "We want the audience to enjoy the music and participate at times," they say.

At times.

Dig a little deeper, and there's one solitary online interview with a band called The Vaults. It's three years old, and it lists the band's members as Joey, Donald, Freddie and James. Which is strange, because the singer on Cry No More is definitely a lady singer. In the interview, they describe their sound as "Beat Wave... a mixture of Big Beat, Pop and New Wave". Again, this is nothing like the single.

But what a single: It starts off with bell-ringers, who are gradually joined by a muted piano and an ululating, plaintive vocal: "I don’t wanna cry no more / And I don't want to die a little more every day". In the second verse, everything kicks off in a James Blake dubstep-style... before Dracula turns up and starts thumping out fright-chords on his pipe organ.

It's utterly beguiling and absolutely captivating. Whoever this band are, I can't wait to hear what they do next. Right, Scooby?

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Girl A-Lorde

If you read the international music press, you can’t help but notice the fuss being made over New Zealand's Ella Yelich-O'Connor – aka Lorde. (That's her above, in the middle of a staring contest). Here's what they have been saying.

"This year's queen of summer radio," says Vogue.

"She’s a talented teenage badass," says Vice.

"Lorde is the first lead solo female to crown Billboard's Alternative chart in more than 17 years," announces Billboard.

"Just a regular teenager from New Zealand," says the New York Times, underselling it a bit.

"Lorde have mercy," quips Perez Hilton tiresomely (ok, I wish I'd thought of it first).

Lorde’s big single is called Royals. It's sparse and supple, the minimal production highlighting the 16-year-old’s gorgeous, multi-tracked harmonies. The lyrics take a pop at the materialism of modern pop ("we’ll never be Royals – that kind of lux just ain’t for us") but, bizarrely, the title was inspired by a sports photograph.

"I had this image from the National Geographic of this dude just signing baseballs," Lorde told VH1 earlier this week.

"He was a baseball player and his shirt said, ‘Royals.’ It was just that word. It’s really cool." (Presumably the man in the photo was a player for the Kansas City Royals, rather than Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark, putting aside his constitutional duties to attend the annual European Royal Family egg and spoon race).

Anyway, the song is tremendous. Unusual and catchy in the way that debut singles should be. People have called it this year’s Gotye – but Lorde has a couple of other big songs up her sleeve, too. Check out Tennis Court and tell me I’m wrong.

Royals isn’t out in the UK until 20 October – but you can listen to it now. As well as a clutch of terrific remixes from The Weeknd (moody) and Wild Boyz! (dubsteppy). Enjoy.

Lorde - Royals

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The new Sleigh Bells single is very good

But what it really needs is for someone to mash it up with Kanye West's Gold Digger.

"Get down, girl, go 'head get down."

Sleigh Bells - bitter Rivals

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Arlissa gives us goosebumps

What was the last song to send chills up your spine? For me, it was probably Jessie Ware's Taking In Water - and before that Marina and the Diamond's I Am Not A Robot. What I'm saying is, they don't come around often. But if you've been watching BBC One recently, you might have felt a shiver running up and down your back every time the trail for What Remains played.

The song, of course, is Olive's You're Not Alone, so recently ruined by Tinchy Stryder (he rhymes "choosing" with "fuming"). But this fluttering, heart-stopping version comes from Arlissa, a 20-year-old singer from Crystal Palace.

You might remember her single Sticks And Stones from earlier this year. A darkly-sung break-up tale over urgent, tribal drums it was (rightly) compared to Florence Welch, and this cover could be Arlissa's You Got The Love - pencil-shading a perky dance song to reveal its shadowy contours.

The singer has just put the full version up on YouTube, along with a homemade video. Draw the curtains and turn up the volume - it's going to give you goosebumps.

Arlissa - You're Not Alone

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Monday, September 2, 2013

Lady Gaga has Sex Dreams in Camden, and six other songs you may have missed

"When I'm without you, I can't live," bleated Lady Gaga at the iTunes festival last night, buttering up her fans like hot muffins. "When were in this space together we make the most beautiful thing in the world," she added. "We belong, don't we?"

OH GOOD GOD, WOMAN, GIVE IT A REST. Gaga's fawning nonsense wasted approximately a quarter of her 60-minute set at the Roundhouse. Is there a more sickening pop star vice than naked narcissism? Gaga dresses up this "mother monster" thing as a mutual relationship but, let's be clear, she's the one getting her ego stroked. At great length.

But when she finally got around to playing some music, you could (almost) forgive her. Manicure and Artpop sounded better, conceptually and melodically, than anything on Born This Way. My favourite was Sex Dreams, which sounded like the sort of thing Prince would have given Vanity 6 back in 1984. Here's some rehearsal footage:

But Gaga wasn't the only pop star unveiling new songs this weekend. Here's a quick round-up.

1) Arctic Monkeys - Stop The World I Wanna Get Off With You
Lord knows what's gotten into Alex Turner but his new songs all sound like they were written by a randy teenager ("I'm constantly on the cusp of trying to kiss you").

Stop The World... is a non-album b-side but it's as lurid and licentious as Do I Wanna Know? In other words: it's bloody good.

2) Miley Cyrus - Wrecking Ball
I always suspected the next track from Miley's new album (hilariously named BANGERZ) would be a little more palatable than the "look at me being all growed up" antics of We Can't Stop. And so it proves to be: Wrecking Ball is a stonking mega-ballad that will soundtrack X Factor winner montages for weeks to come.

3) Skream - Rollercoaster feat Sam Frank
You see the name Skream and you think "ah yes, the man who threw ball bearings in a dustbin and called it Dubstep". Well, this is nothing of the sort: A happy, slinky disco groove which veers dangerously close to Jamiroquai territory, but will win you over anyway.

4) Anna Calvi- Eliza
"Anna Calvi runs through the forest and the elements," says the YouTube description for Anna Calvi's new single. It means "Anna gets wet in the rain", rather than "Anna bursts through solid plates of magnesium and calcium" - which is either disappointing or magnificent, depending on how much phwoarr Anna generates in your loins.

5) Cher Lloyd - I Wish fest TI
Stealing Riffing on the chorus from Skee-Lo's I Wish, this is the first song from Cher Lloyd's second album. It's catchy enough, if you like that sort of thing.

6) Oh Land - Renaissance Girls (Nick Zinner remix)
I must have watched Oh Land's video for Renaissance Girls 100 times by now, and the choreography still makes me grin like a dolphin. Now it's been remixed by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zimmerman, who gives the song a more strident, military beat but does nothing to diminish it's kooky charm. Move forward, move forward.

Now... what on earth am I going to blog about for the rest of the week?

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