Thursday, October 31, 2013

People win prizes, pt 293

Last night, James Blake won the Mercury Prize for best album of the year; and Chvrches won the Popjustice Prize for best single of the year. Understandably, they were both quite pleased.

But a lot of people who aren't James Blake and Chvrches are annoyed. They wanted other artists to win instead. Artists like the Arctic Monkeys or Disclosure or The Saturdays (!) but mainly David "Zavid" Bowie. Somehow, though, I doubt David is weeping into his chamomile tea this morning (he's too busy playing with his life-sized David Bowie puppets and making prank calls to Iggy Pop).

Personally, I reckon both sets of judges got it right.

What we have here are two odd-but-brilliant records that could only have been made in the UK. Both artists needed a helping hand to reach a wider audience and, crucially, they're both as good on stage as they are on record (one YouTube commentator argues that Blake's live vocals are "a mixture between a unicorn and Jesus").

If you read this blog regularly, you've probably heard them before. But just in case you clicked the wrong link on Google this morning, here's what you've been missing.

James Blake - Retrograde (live)

Chvrches - The Mother We Share (live)

BONUS: Putting this post together, I stumbled across another live performance of The Mother We Share, which completely tears the song apart and rebuilds it from the ground up. It's utterly beautiful.

Chvrches - The Mother We Share (Billboard session)

Pop music is amazing, isn't it?

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Superb, free Ellie Goulding remix

Today's track is a magical, heart-wrenching MP3 from Ellie Goulding and Active Child. Here's a 15-point history of how it came to be.

1) A man called Pat Grossi (top right, ginger) learns to play the harp

2) Pat changes his name to Active Child and makes an album of plinky-plonky indie

3) It gets great reviews but is bought by approximately seven people

4) One of those people is "Starry Eyed" chanteuse Ellie Goulding (top left, woolly jumper)

5) Ellie gets to track two and thinks "Oh, I quite like this song"

6) Ellie decides to cover Hanging On for a laugh

7) It ends up setting the direction for her second album, Halcyon

8) She calls it "the beginning of my new journey", like an X Factor contestant

9) Then Tinie Tempah ruins everything by "contributing" a rap about his indigestion medication

10) Active Child is impressed enough with the non Tinie-Tempah bits of to record a duet with Ellie

11) It is called Silhouette and is replete with surging strings, ghostly harmonies and a tooting clarinet

12) After it appears on an EP, Californian knob-twiddlers Shoe Scene Symphony get their hands on the song and tart it up with a wheelbarrow full of synths

13) It sounds like it should be on the Hunger Games soundtrack

14) Instead, they make it available as a free download

15) "et voila"

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New music from Katy B and Disclosure

New music from Katy B is always welcome. New music from Disclosure is always welcome. So to get both on the same day is quite a treat.

Katy's track is a gently-strummed acoustic ballad with a mournful, hushed vocal about the polar ice caps. Oh, alright then - it's a banging dance track about falling in love in a club. "I like you a little bit... More than I should," she demurs as synths spiral around her like jetstreams.

Disclosure, meanwhile, have uploaded a brand new, throbbing late-night dub to Soundcloud. Called Apollo, it's largely instrumental and sounds like it'll go down a storm on their DJ sets.

Hopefully, the appearance of the new track means Disclosure's Mercury-nominated debut album Settle is due for a deluxe edition. I've already had put together a tentative tracklisting in a previous blog post, in case anyone from Island Records needs a head start. You're welcome.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Angel Haze remixes Same Love

In case you missed this last week (because I did), here's US rapper Angel Haze putting her own spin on Macklemore's pro-gay, pro-acceptance, anti-bigotry anthem Same Love.

The original is, rightly, being hailed as an important milestone. The lyrics challenge rap music's default position of homophobia ("If I was gay, I would think hip-hop hates me / Have you read the YouTube comments lately? / "Man, that's gay" gets dropped on the daily"). Sometimes the lyrics are a little simplistic - but its heart is in the right place and it deservingly won the clunkily-titled "best video with a message" award at this year's MTV VMAs.

Interestingly, though, frontman Ben Haggerty asserts his own heterosexuality within the first four lines. Angel Haze makes no such caveats. Her opening salvo is stark and brutal: At age 13 my mother knew I wasn't straight / She didn't understand but she had so much to say / She sat me on the couch, looked me straight in my face / And said, 'You’ll burn in hell or probably die of AIDS'.

With more raw power than a nuclear plant, the full seven-minute version will take your breath away.

Same Love is part of the rapper's 30 Gold project, where she's freestyling over other people's tracks every day for a month on her Soundcloud page. Her acoustic version of Wrecking Ball is highly recommended, while her take on Jay-Z's Tom Ford is better than the original.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Fab Macca's celebrity friends and five other songs you may have missed

It's that time again: A bunch of songs from the last seven days that you may not have seen, or that you have seen but I forgot to blog about along the way. Either way, here's this week's Bo Selection.

1) Paul McCartney - Queenie Eye
Meryl Streep, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Kate Moss, Jeremy Irons, Tom Ford, Sean Penn, Chris Pine: All of them dancing awkwardly to Paul McCartney's new single.

Like the title track of Sir Paul's new album, New, this is a pleasant return to a sort of Beatlesy instrumentation and chord progression - although the production by Paul "turn up the drums" Epworth is strangely neutered.

2) M.I.A - Yala
I was very excited to interview musical provocateur M.I.A. earlier this week (the interview is going up on the BBC soon) - and she didn't disappoint. The interview covered the NSA, Wikileaks, the SuperBowl, Hindu mysticism and the wonders of Sade's farm - from which M.I.A. borrowed a cow for her Bring The Noize video (no, really).

MIA went on from our interview to speak to Zane Lowe and premiere her new song YALA - You Always Live Again. It's been interpreted as an attack on Drake's YOLO, but she told me that was nonsense. "It's not an anti-Drake song, it's just an alternative concept," she sighed. "People find offense in anything."

3) Kelly Clarkson - Underneath The Tree
Today is officially 2 months before Christmas Day, so what better time to enjoy Kelly Clarkson's first ever Yuletide single? It fits snugly into Phil Spector's sleighbell-tastic template, although it's no All I Want For Christmas Is You.

4) The Internet - Dontcha
Fancy some mid-90s acid jazz vibes? The here are Odd Future-offshoot The Internet to help you out. Equal parts Brand New Heavies and Solange, Dontcha has one hell of a slinky bassline. Niiiice.

5) Svē - Talking To The Walls
Svē is an unsigned artist from Brooklyn, who majored in songwriting at college and recorded this single "in bedrooms and closets". It doesn't sound like it. Talking To The Walls is a stunning, slow-burning pop ballad, whose chorus will fling you out of your socks. Very, very impressive.

6) Jungle - The Heat
Mysterious London duo Jungle were recently named NME's New Band Of The Week - but don't let that put you off. The group don't let anyone see their faces, but the music can do the talking just fine, thankyouverymuch.

Their new single is a slippery twist of funk, and the video is sublime. Expect big things.

That's it for this week. Congratulations if you got this far.

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Five best bits from Little Mix's Move video

Little Mix's Move is a hair-tossing, lock-and-popping, body-rocking, pop video extravaganza.


Here are five of the best bits.

1) Jade checks her cuffs, James Bond-style, before the vocals kick in

2) Leigh-Anne makes a horlicks of recreating the Janet album cover

3) Expert hair tossing moment from Jesy

4) Erm, not sure what's going on here

5) The Big Dance Finish

And, without any further "ado", here's the whole thing. As you can see, it is at least 100% OMG*.

Little Mix - Move

* OMG may go up or down. Your blood pressure may be at risk if you're a hormonal teenager who's invested too much of their self-esteem in the vagaries of a manufactured pop group.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013


Try and watch the last minute of the new video by Rudimental without gripping the edge of your desk and going "oh shit, oh shit, oh shiiiit..."

Just try.

Rudimental - Free ft Emeli Sande

Pretty amazing, right? According to the press release it was "shot around the deadly Eiger mountain in the Alps" and "there was no post-production... A guy by the name of Jokke Sommer actually does everything you see."


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They've got a brand new combine harvester

Whoever said The Arctic Monkeys' new album was "all about the backing vocals" got it spot on. Across AM Alex Turner, apparently the world's number one Susanna Reid fan, lets his bandmates do all the heavy harmony lifting, and the result is their strongest record since their debut.

Case in point is new single One For The Road which, with it's "whoo whoo" refrain, is like a 60s Motown stomper played at the wrong speed.

The video sees the band playing a game of chicken with a variety of farm vehicles. Because, you know, they can.

Arctic Monkeys - One For The Road

Bonus content: Here's the Arctics doing Fireside in Radio 1's Live Lounge a couple of weeks ago. The drumming is ferocious. And I mean that in a good way.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Little Mix got the Move

Exciting news! I've been laying underfloor insulation in our cellar all day.

And now I am kicking back with this - Little Mix's first live TV performance of Move, which took place in the Aussie X Factor, where Ronan Keating is a judge for some reason.

Blimey, those Pom Sheilas can really sing, can't they Charlene? Etc, etc.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A shoddy review of Arcade Fire's new album

Many moons ago, when the weather was clement, I was invited to a plush subterranean room where I was fed with parma ham and black coffee. Then, a very nice record company lady played me the new Arcade Fire album, and told me reviews were VERY STRICTLY EMBARGOED PLEASE.

I can't remember when the embargo lifted but, to be frank, my notes were utter bollocks, so a proper review was never on the cards. Also, I panicked and left before the album finished.

But, so what? I'm not able to pass judgment on a record after listening to it once on the wall-mounted speakers of an "exclusive" members' club - even if that's the way the band intended it to be heard. (NB: It clearly isn't).

Trying to decipher my scribblings today, it seems I was largely unmoved by Reflektor. Phrases like "reverb frenzy" and "awful, trebly thrash" crop up fairly frequently - although that could conceivably have been the fault of the sound system.

I seemed to like We Exist's "swirling dub disco coda" and Normal Person, whose chopped-up soundclash brought to mind John Lennon's razor blade experiments on the White Album.

Less impressive was You May Already Know, which prompted the comment: "Like Radiohead's Electioneering, this is the sound of an artful band trying and failing to play a big, dumb rock song."

But here's the rub: Arcade Fire albums are never going to make you scream, "stop the press, they've reinvented all of music". They're subtle, intricate suites that unfold their mysteries over repeated plays.

So why ask people to judge Reflektor in one sitting? I understand the label's desire to stop leaks. I even understand why websites (even the BBC website) get worse access than the print media. But why not scrap the idea of reviews altogether?

By the time Reflektor comes out on Monday, fans will have had the chance to hear more than half of the 13 tracks online. Here's the latest, Afterlife, in the form of a lyric video. It's time to make up your own mind.

Arcade Fire - Afterlife

PS: Several websites did post reviews based on this playback. What do you make of that? Bad practice, or necessary evil?

PPS I should be clear that I wasn't expected to file a review after this event & wouldn't have agreed to it if that had been a condition. I made notes in case they came in useful later - and was genuinely interested to hear the record. But other journalists had to accept the scenario, and that struck me as odd. 

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Here is Rebecca Ferguson's new video

The more I listen to this song, the more I like it. A powerful, rousing, arena pop ballad, it now has a video where Rebecca emotes earnestly in a barren room, and fire bursts out of people's chests like in that Katy Perry video.


Rebecca Ferguson - I Hope

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Katy Perry's entire Prism album, and six other songs you may have missed

It's Friday, so it must be time for the customary round-up of new songs from the last seven days. This week's line-up looks like this:

1) Katy Perry - Prism
Officially out on Monday, Katy Perry's uploaded her third album to SoundCloud in its entirety, in a bid to combat the people who leaked it yesterday.

The release also coincides with the first swathe of reviews. They're mostly positive - but The Guardian, with depressing predictability, has written a sneering critique of the album's lyrics.

Alexis Petridis's article is based on the flimsy premise that, when Billboard called Prism "Katy Perry's most spiritual album to date", it was somehow suggesting she had consulted Deepak Chopra and M Scott Peck to create the most insightful and revelatory excavation of the human psyche ever to appear in popular song.

Thankfully, the co-writers are mostly Swedish (to paraphrase Petridis, the liner notes read like an IKEA catalogue) and the lyrics are, for the most part, totally unimportant. And, although nothing quite strikes you like Roar, it's a thundering collection of melodic pop.

Recommended tracks: Legendary Lovers, Walking On Air, Unconditionally.

3) Little Mix - Move (Alias Remix)
Good song. Good remix. Job done.

3) Eminem - Rap God
So this is what it sounds like to be reinvigorated. Eminem, on a six-minute lyrical rampage, proclaims "I'm beginning to feel like a Rap God," and actually sounds more deserving of the title than Kanye "Yeezus" West.

Lyrical gems include: "Got a fat knot from that rap profit / Made a living and a killing off it / Ever since Bill Clinton was still in office / With Monica Lewinsky feeling on his nut-sack / I’m an MC still as honest / But as rude and as indecent as all hell".


4) James Blake ft Chance The Rapper - Life Round Here
From the video's YouTube description: "The video, shot entirely in black and white, tracks Blake and Chance as they cruise in a lowrider through an eerie forest inhabited by stallions and Somalian pirates." How can you resist?

5) Rebecca Ferguson - I Hope
"Interesting fact": The most-read article I wrote on the BBC News Website last year was this interview with Rebecca Ferguson. It wasn't spectacularly insightful, or even well-written. The public just have a huge reserve of affection for the Liverpudlian singer.

They're going to lap up her new single, I Hope, which arrives after an ugly and protracted spat with her former managers. Launching with a rollicking drum roll, you kind of hope it'll see Rebecca spitting with fury, like Rolling In The Deep vintage Adele.

She doesn't, of course, but the song is an urgent and uplifting and an instant classic.

6) Lady Gaga ft R Kelly - Do What U Want
This is only a 30-second clip but it restores my faith in Gaga's ability to write a straightforward pop song. The best ArtPop preview to date, not that that's saying much.

7) Bruno Mars - Gorilla
The Indian press is up in arms about this video, in which Slumdog Millionaire actress Freida Pinto stars as a stripper (SPOILER: Bruno Mars is seen "cavorting" with her at the end).

Pinto's representatives even issued a statement in her defence to the Hindustan Times, which protests: "Freida’s look in Gorilla is quite a departure from what we otherwise see. Apparently, when she was approached with this opportunity, she knew that this would be a reincarnation of sorts for her and she was quite thrilled to do it, being the risk taker that she is".

It's no Blurred Lines - there's a storyline to explain the raunchy bits - but I still wouldn't watch it at work, unless your boss is particularly easy-going.

And that's your lot. Have a great weekend.

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ed Sheeran in "interesting song" shock

Don't get too excited - this is like the time Eminem made Dido interesting for a week (approx) - but Ed Sheeran is doing some sterling work on Old School Love, a new song by "Loopy" Lupe Fiasco.

"As long as I'm here, as long as you love me, give me that old school love right now," croons the ginger prince, while Lupe namechecks the greats of 80s hip-hop: "the Fat Boys and Juice Crews; Melle Mels, Ice-Ts, and the two Cools".

It's refreshing to hear Sheeran wrenched away from the blasted baby guitar he carries everywhere like a security blanket, and his unhurried vocals are a perfect fit for this laid-back jam - which is reminiscent of LL Cool J's Around The Way Girl.

Taken from Lupe's forthcoming fourth album, Tetsuo and Youth, Old School Love is out now on US iTunes.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ahhhh, Love to Tove Lo, baby

If there's one sentence I never tire of writing, it's "here's a young Swedish woman making sublime, state-of-the-art pop".

I don't know what it is about Sweden: They must have a mad scientist growing these singers to stave off the boredom of the long, dark Scandinavian winters, raising them on a strict diet of Eurovision repeats and blåbärssoppa. When they write a particularly catchy melody, they're rewarded with a tasty herring.

And so, the latest butterfly to emerge from Stockholm's pop coccoon is Tove Lo, a 24-year-old who's been working with Elof Loelv (Niki & the Dove), Alexander Kronlund (Britney Spears, Robyn) and Xenomania (the best 10 pop singles of the 21st century).

Recently signed to Universal, her new single is Out Of Mind, a thrilling potboiler with a stomach-drop of a chorus. "You're out of your mind to think that I could keep you out of mine" is undoubtedly one of the year's great lyrics. 

The big-budget video sees Tove-Lo literally being chased by demons. Eeeek. 

Tove Lo - Out Of Mind

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Here's the best Whitney Houston cover you'll hear this week

Today's big song comes from Postiljonen - a Norwegian dream-pop trio, who sound like Saint Etienne played at 33rpm (ask your dad).

Comprised of Mia Brox Bøe, Joel Nyström Holm and Daniel Sjörs, they're named after an archaic Swedish word for postman or messenger (most Swedes use "Brevbärare" nowadays). "We just liked the way it sounds," Mia told this website. "Not too happy about the translation in English, though, cos we’re no postmen, we are Postiljonen".

The band's debut album, Skyer, came out earlier this year to excellent reviews. If you're a fan of Daughter or London Grammar, its a perfect companion piece - with Mia's sweeping, breathy melodies soaring on the thermals created by the band's hazy synth atmospherics.

Anyway, I promised you a Whitney Houston cover so here it is: All That We Had Is Lost, Postiljonen's down-tempo, marimba-powered new single, which lifts the verses of Whitney's How Will I Know, transposes them to a minor key, and embellishes them with a mournful saxophone solo.

It's a lot better than I've made it sound.

Posiljonen - All That We Had Is Lost

Recorded shortly after Whitney's untimely death in 2012, All That We Had Is Lost is Postiljonen's tribute to the 'My Name Is Not Susan' hitmaker. "I really do love her," Mia noted.

If you like the official version, you should also try out the Keep Shelly in Athens remix, which pushes the autmunal song into the chilly depths of winter. Brrr.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

New from Prince and Janelle Monae

I'm still waiting for Janelle Monae and Prince to give their sublime duet, Givin 'Em What They Love, a proper release - just for the thrill of seeing them perform together. Until then, I have to content myself with their respective solo singles. (Which is totally fine, by the way.)

Prince continues his pattern of one-off releases with Breakfast Can Wait, a jazzy ballad that recalls his Rainbow Children album (musically) and his predilection with doing sex on ladies (lyrically).

He's hired a female impersonator to play his role in the video because... well, he's Prince.

Prince - Breakfast Can Wait

Janelle, meanwhile, releases the other big duet from her Electric Lady album. Primetime is a sumptuous love tussle with Miguel, with a fantastic line about being so infatuated they "won't even write a song".

The track – and the guitar solo in particular – are VERY Princely. He's not credited with playing on the song but it's either him or someone is doing an incredible impression. Superb stuff.

Janelle Monae - Primetime (ft Miguel)

PS: Janelle's interview on collaborating with Prince is worth a quick read. "He's a mentor to me," she told Billboard. "He took me on tour with him. It was very organic for us to work together, but I know he does not collaborate with everybody that he performs with, and I don't take that for granted."

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Songs you may have missed: The nude edition

Sorry for the lack of updates this week - the real world has been getting in the way (plus there wasn't much to write about, to be honest).

Anyway, here's a rundown of the songs that floated onto the internet this week, most of which seem to be stripped-back, denuded, unclothed and generally acoustic versions of original songs. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

1) David Bowie - Sound And Vision (2013)
You've probably heard this on an advert for a mobile phone and wondered where it came from. It's Sound And Vision, and it's definitely Bowie's voice, but the only backing is a naive piano that sounds like it was recorded in a school assembly.

In fact, the mix is the work of Sonjay Prabhakar, who was given the original master-tapes and pared away all the production to leave the lead vocals, Mary Hopkin's backing and Roy Young. Yep, that's really there on the album mix. Who knew?

It's proved so popular that Bowie has given an official release his blessing. It's out now on iTunes.

2) Miley Cyrus and The Roots - We Can't Stop
Presented like the opening titles of The Brady Bunch, this a capella rendition of Miley's FU anthem actually makes the song tolerable. Easy to forget there's a great set of vocal cords hidden behind that tongue.

3) MKS - No Regrets
As well as the near-perfect cover of Lorde's Royals, which I posted on Tuesday, MKS performed an acoustic version of their new song No Regrets at their recent Reload Sessions recording. A ballad that could be a love song, it could also be about the girls' split and reunion: "Enemies, I hope we clear the air".

4) Foxes - Youth
Precisely one million years after it first appeared online, Foxes' beautiful Youth is finally getting a proper release. Radio 1 put it on their C-List this week, which augurs well. Foxes celebrated the news by playing the song in bed, for some reason.

5) Robbie Williams - Go Gentle
I was lucky enough to go and see Robbie record an episode of Radio 4's Mastertapes last night. The premise of the show is that artists come in and discuss their defining album - in Robbie's case, Life Thru A Lens. He talked about being booted out of Take That ("I asked them if I could take a pineapple with me") and how Gary Barlow rejected his first ever song.

"I phoned Gaz up and I said 'I've got this song - it's about a prostitute, in Manchester' and he said, 'it'd be alright for a rock group, wouldn't it, lad?"

At the end of the night, he played a couple of tracks from his new album, Robbie Williams Swings Both Ways, including this - Go Gentle, a sincere, but goofy, declaration of love for his one-year-old daughter. He was in tears at the end of it.

6) VV Brown - The Apple (live on Later)
OK - so this Jools Holland performance is as far away from acoustic as it's possible to get, but WHAT A SONG.

7) TLC - Meant To Be
Written by Ne-Yo, Meant To Be is the only new song on TLC's 20th anniversary collection. T-Boz sounds like she's been smoking 40-a-day for the last decade, but this is quite lovely in a 90s throwback kind of way. More Red Light Special than Waterfalls, but I can live with that.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Haim are number one. But now what?

HUGE congratulations to Haim, whose debut album beat part-time actor Justin Timberlake to number one by the tiniest of margins on Sunday (2,100 copies at the final count). Days Are Gone is a great record - a stroppy, songy masterpiece forged in the flames of the 1980s pop. But here's the thing: I've barely listened to it.

Why? Because by the time it came out, I already owned five of its 11 tracks. According to iTunes, I've listened to Forever and Don't Save Me over 100 times, so I never really need to hear them again. The CD is a physical souvenir of songs I loved on the internet last year.

And that's a big problem. Because, more and more, this is the way new bands are promoted. After all the buzz tracks, free downloads, exclusive sessions and chart-ineligible EPs, Haim's first album is over before it began. There's maybe one more single on it - then nothing for radio to play while they tour the album, and nothing to keep them in the public consciousness while they record the follow-up.

The same fate has befallen AlunaGeorge, who used up their best radio songs before radio was ready for them. By the time their album was finished, they were releasing You Know You Like It for the third time. Unsurprisingly, everybody who wanted the song had already downloaded it, with the result that a potential number one limped into the charts at 39, and was dropped from the latest Now album. It's almost like it never existed.

In the end, the AlunaGeorge's album charted respectably at number 11 - but now it needs a promotional push for Christmas, and the cupboard is bare. Had wiser heads prevailed, Your Drums Your Love would have been held over to this year. Instead we get Best Be Believing. Not a bad song, if you're into Paula Abdul album tracks, but a million miles from the band's best work.

I'm not sure setting the video in a "humorous" mental health clinic was the best idea, either.

AlunaGeorge - Best Be Believing

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MKS cover Lorde's Royals

Magnificent. Well done, everyone.

MKS - Royals

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Monday, October 7, 2013

Lissie interview: Bonus bits

Saviour of FM rock Lissie Maurus releases her second album, Back To Forever, next week. While the record doesn't break any boundaries (Pat Benatar could have won a Grammy for it in 1982) it's also excellent - a fist-pumping, singalong, bundle of joy.

The new single is Sleepwalking - a dreamy breakup ballad that, thankfully, sheds its similarities to The Stereophonics' Have A Nice Day after the intro ends.

Already on Radio 2's A-list, the video has just premiered on YouTube.

Lissie - Sleepwalking

I interviewed Lissie earlier this year, a couple of days after her UK comeback gig. We discussed break-ups, summer jobs and being "big in Norway" - and you can [read the BBC article here]. But there are always some quotes that get excised due to the 1,000 word limit, so here's a few bonus questions.

It's strange that we're speaking in April, but the album doesn't come out 'til September.

I think there's a strategy to it. If the album didn't come out in the spring, it made more sense to put it out in the fall than the summer. Those are things that they [the record label] know through market research and things.... The stuff that luckily I don't have to think about, because I'm business-minded, but not to that degree,

Why didn't you spend the extra time recording a Christmas song?
I should probably think about writing a Christmas song one of these days. Write some hits and let the cheques roll in!

How do you go about writing lyrics?
You have to consider 'is this going to be a pain in the ass to sing?'

On the album, there's the song I Don't Want To Go To Work: That phrase is very jarring, so you have to sing "ay-on-wanna" instead of "I. Don't. Want. To." It sounds silly, but I have to think about whether I can sing something night after night without destroying my vocal cords.

One thing I noticed with this new record is that some of the songs have really high notes. I was like, why did I write this song so high?

The thing is that high, strained notes give a song a sense of urgency, don't they?
Yeah, but take my song When I'm Alone - we never play it in the key it's recorded in. You record in chunks sometimes - so I can sing a really high note when I'm just starting at the chorus, but when you're singing the entire song it's a real workout.

Do you prefer playing live?
Everything grew from loving to perform live. I was in musicals as a kid. I was Annie! And so I think that performing is my forte.

You've really captured your live sound on this album.
Thanks - but I don't think you can ever bridge the gap completely, because in the studio it's too tempting to want to do overdubs. So there's four guitar parts on the record, but on stage we can only play two of them.

What was recording like?
I wanted my band to play on it – because I didn't know them when I made my first record. I didn't really want it to be electronic. I've seen a lot of great bands who use laptops, but I wanted to do something that four people can get on stage and pull off.

I love when my guitar player Eric Sullivan does his solos - and it doesn't maybe always work on record, but I fought for it on a few songs. Like Romance Police – it didn't have that guitar build in the middle, but I said "we've really got to put that moment in the song".

There were more times when I'd be like, "let's put a two minute guitar solo at the end" and the producer and the label would go, "hmm, I don't know about that".

Lissie - Romance Police

It's a more straightforward album than Catching A Tiger. The songs are all broadly country rock.
I wanted it to be more cohesive because the first album felt like a sampler of all the different things I do. They're still in me. I can still pick up an acoustic guitar and play a folk song. I write folk songs for myself that I don't play for anyone. But I wanted there to be that cohesion. For people who liked In Sleep and When I'm Alone, this album from start to finish is in that world.

When I saw you play in Shepherd's Bush in 2010, you were very excited to have two guitars on stage for the first time. How many do you have now?
Still just two. I used to have to tune my own guitar. I can still do it, but it's just awkward when there's that space between each song where it's like, "alright, you guys talk amongst yourselves for a while!"

So what's the goal with this record?
I want to be as successful as I can be, I should say that first. There's a part of me that's slightly afraid of success. I can kind of sabotage myself. But I would love to be recouped. I would love to sell millions of albums and to be able to play to 5,000 people anywhere I went in the world. I'd love to be on Saturday Night Live, on Taratata in Paris or to play Jools Holland again. But I'd also like to be low key. I have to figure out how to do both.

So how do you get away from it all?
When I'm touring I'm on a schedule but then when I'm home I get to decide what I want to do for the day. And I feel like doing nothing!

Get up and go for a hike, then I'll have a long lunch and sit outside a read a book, then I'll have a bath and I'm going to watch Game of Thrones and have a bottle of wine.

I know a lot of people don't have that luxury but I have friends who would be driven crazy by that!

I have months where I don’t really have much to do. But I'm a planner – I know how to use downtime wisely.

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Gary Barlow goes Mumford and six other songs you may have missed

This has been a pretty good week for music - we had a polished video from a re-energised Britney, a mini-movie from The Arcade Fire and a tear-jerker from John Legend, not to mention (great) new albums from Justin Timberlake and Haim. So this week's strays and leftovers are pretty high quality. Have a gander...

1) Gary Barlow - Let Me Go
Gaz breaks out the banjos for his first solo record in 14 years. Let Me Go, basically a speeded-up Hey There Delilah, is precision-targetted at Radio 2 mums.

That's not a dig, by the way - Gary knows his market. He's even booked an advertising space on the bus stop in Coronation Street. Clever boy.

2) Goldfrapp - Annabel (live on Jools Holland)
Looking like Bad Romance-era Lady Gaga, singing like a fallen angel, Alison Goldfrapp graces Later... with her tranquil beauty.

3) Honeyblood - Bud
I picked out this catchy indie-pop gem a last week, and now it's been given a green-fingered video, shot in a stately garden near Herefordshire. It's no Ground Force, though, having been based on the influential, surrealist Czech movie Daisies (which you can watch in full here).

4) Lupa - The Creature
Move over, Lorde, here's a new antipodean singer in town, and this one's only 15.

Lupa is the stage name of Imogen Jones, a classically-trained violinist who's branched out into pop. Her home demos, published on Soundcloud two weeks ago, have already been picked up by influential Aussie radio station Triple J. And rightly so - Lupa's electronically-scored harmonies have a subtlety and sophistication beyond her years.

5) JLS - Billion Lights
The title of JLS's farewell single makes you think it'll be a weepie uber-ballad - but no! Billion Lights thumps like a Hitler's fist on a sturdy lectern.

The video is a three-minute potted history of everyone's favourite colour-coded boyband - their X Factor audition, their first number one, their first arena tour. You'll feel nostalgic, then you'll remember you never really liked them after Beat Again.

6) Wardell - Opossum
OK - this one's two years old, but you should keep your eye on Wardell. Otherwise known as Stasha and Stephen Spielberg, their dad is literally the man who made ET; and Jay-Z has just signed them to Roc Nation.

There's no indication of what their new material sounds like, but this 2011 track, Opossum, has a pleasing bluegrass vibe that reminds me of the Edward Sharpe song on those Peugeot adverts (the one that goes "Alabama, Arkansas - I do love my Ma & Pa").

7) Sampha - Indecision
You've probably heard this all over the radio recently - it's the one with the chorus that goes "let it all work out" over a glitchy, melancholy piano sample.

Sampha is best known for his work with Jessie Ware and SBTRKT, and has just appeared on the new Drake album. This track is from his solo EP Dual, which came out in July. It wears its complexity lightly, letting Sampha's gorgeous voice draw you into its mournful tale of shattered hearts.

Hope those tracks tide you over for the weekend... I'll be back with more on Monday morning.

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

John Legend is lovedrunk

One in five pop songs "promotes alcohol to teenagers", according to a new study published in in Psychology Today.

Or rather, that's the Daily Mail's interpretation (musicians have been "slammed for it", apparently).

If you read the study itself, you'll see the figures plummet drastically when you separate songs that glorify drinking ("you get a swimming pool of liquor then you dive in it") and those where responsible adults have an occasional glass of Tesco Chardonnay in the course of a celebration ("let's raise our cups to the stars").

Still, it does illustrate how pop lyrics have got stuck in a rut. The wondrous mayhem of human experience has somehow been distilled into these five essential topics.

1) I am drunk
2) I am in the club
3) I am a strong independent woman
4) I am going to "give it" to you
5) I am Lady Gaga

If you go back to the 60s, those topics would have looked something like this.

1) I love you
2) She loves you
3) Let's all love each other
4) All you need is love
5) What the fuck is that elephant doing on a tangerine bicycle?

It makes you wonder what the smitten teenagers of 2013 have available to put on mix tapes when they want to declare undying love to each other - Mumford and Sons? I sincerely hope not.

But, lo! Coming to the rescue on his gelded horse is lithesome soul lothario Sir John of Legend. He hath written a heartfelt love sonnet for his new bride, which includes such tender couplets as: "You're my downfall, you're my muse /
My worst distraction, my rhythm and blues".

All Of Me is beautiful in a "Mellow Magic" sort of way. The video features the real Mr and Mrs Legend cavorting around their beautiful LA home in the buff (but tastefully shot in black and white, so it's ok) and some actual footage from their recent wedding in Italy.

And then they SPOIL EVERYTHING by drinking a glass of champagne, the irresponsible BASTARDS.

John Legend - All Of Me

PS: John's wife, Chrissy Teigen, is well worth following on Twitter. She's goofy, snarky and generally hilarious - even when she's going on about her Animal Crossing village (which is a lot). Brains and beauty, it doesn't seem fair.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

I'm at work, bitch

Listen, I'm too busy trying to attain a Lamborghini and look hot in a bikini to waste 10 minutes writing an "amusing" account of Britney Spears' video for Work Bitch.

However, I have watched it all the way through once and will immediately commence whipping any junior colleagues who step out of formation during our 11am dance routine (I'll buy them a pack of jaffa cakes afterwards, I'm not a monster).

Here's something that'll make you feel old: The video premiere came 15-years-and-one-day after the release of "...Baby One More Time".

Britney Spears - Work Bitch

PS Have you heard the radio edit of this single? It's awful - as pointless as the Rita Ora "we want to party, and party, and party, and party..." abomination. By the time the three minutes are over, you will never want to hear the phrase "You'd better work, work" ever again.

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Katy B has a spooky adventure

I don't know about you, but if I was driven to a remote stately home where people in demonic masks performed a sinister, strobe-lit pagan dance ritual, I'd make a much quicker exit than Katy B manages in this video - even if I'd remembered to bring Scooby and the rest of the gang with me. (Mind you, my exodus wouldn't be impeded by a pair of 8-inch heels, either, so what do I know?)

5am, taken from Katy B's forthcoming second album, is out on 3rd November.

Katy B - 5am

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The Killers premiere Shot At The Night video

As previously discussed, The Killers have a greatest hits album coming out, and new track Shot At The Night is the bribe bonus that'll make most fans want to buy it. Produced by M83, it comes with one of those effortlessly anthemic choruses that seem to spill out of Brandon Flowers' brain almost by accident (the verses, on the other hand, are pretty woeful).

You won't see much of the band in the video, which is a cute little Las Vegas love story. It kind of reminds me of Before Sunrise / Before Sunset, which can only be a good thing.

The Killers - Shot At The Night

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